The Ministry of Defence last week confirmed it had been approached by Vickers with a bid to bypass the tendering process for the Future Engineering Tank (FET).
An MoD spokesman said the company had submitted a proposal which would allow it to circumvent the usual competition for the £200m, 200-vehicle contract, in an attempt to safeguard some of the 200 jobs earmarked to go at Vickers’ tank plant in Newcastle.
He said: ‘We consider any innovative proposal and will do so with this one. It is too early to say how the decision process will go. All I can say at this stage is to confirm that we have had some discussions with the company.’
Analysts said Vickers’ attempt to bypass tendering was a sign of desperation. The company failed to win a multi-billion pound contract for the ‘battlefield taxi’ which went to a rival consortium including GKN, Alvis and three continental defence engineering firms.
A company source said: ‘We are not blackmailing the Government. We’re not asking it to do something which will cost more money.
‘What we’ve said to the MoD is if we can get into discussions by the end of the year, with the prospect of an early contract, we are looking at a lot less job cuts in Newcastle.
‘The case stands on its own merit, regardless of jobs. We can offer better value for money through a non-competitive contract. Otherwise it means two years of time and money wasted on feasibility studies.’
The Future Engineering Tank, a heavily armoured vehicle based on the Challenger 1 chassis, will protect skilled troops carrying out construction work in the battle zone.
Vickers built the Challenger 1 and has started deliveries of its replacement, Challenger 2, so believes it is best placed to satisfy the needs of the Army for the FET.
Vickers’ rivals were sanguine about the company’s move. Analysts said the company ‘has to do something’ as it is staring at empty order books for its armoured vehicle business once existing work is completed.