Rarely-Discussed Platform to Get Leonardo/Thales Platform Protection Suite
The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) allowed a limited but unusual insight into one of its most tightly-held surveillance capabilities at DSEI this week, when it agreed to allow Leonardo and Thales UK to publicly discuss a recent contract award. The companies have teamed up to provide an enhanced and integrated defensive aid system (DAS) to the Royal Air Force’s SHADOW R1 fleet.
Procured under an urgent operational requirement and delivered to the front line in 2009, SHADOW is based on the KING AIR 350CER platform, modified by Raytheon, and features what official confirmation lists only as “an underfuselage electro-optical sensor turret, a variety of integrated sensors and extensive communications capability, managed from operator consoles in the cabin.” Public discussion of the platform and the precise nature of its capabilities has been scant, so the announcement made jointly by Leonardo and Thales UK on the second day of DSEI in London is noteworthy.
The contract will see two products each from the two companies installed onto eight SHADOW aircraft by Raytheon’s team at Broughton in north Wales. Thales is supplying its Elix-ER threat warner and Vicon countermeasures dispensing system, while Leonardo will provide the Miysis directed infra-red countermeasure (DIRCM) and DAS controller. Miysis and the Leonardo DAS are already flying on a range of RAF and other platforms; the contract marks the first customer for the Elix-ER. According to Tony Innes, Vice-President of Sales for Leonardo’s radar and advanced targeting division, based in Edinburgh, the package includes elements that replace existing capabilities on the platform, enhance what is already there, and add new elements to SHADOW’s defensive suite.
“The combined capacity – certainly in DIRCM – is something that platform has not had before,” he says. “That’s new capability. The addition of the Elix-IR threat-warning capability is an enhancement, because the platform has previously had missile-warning capability: but it’s very much taking a system approach to the capability, through the DAS and the missile-warning and hostile-firing capability that Elix-ER provides, and then using the DIRCM to provide world-leading countermeasures against the very difficult and challenging MANPAD threat.”
Innes says that the new integrated system will be easy to upgrade in future, helping the RAF keep pace with changing threat scenarios that may emerge in future conflicts. He also states that “the majority” of growth and upgrades will be delivered via software rather than hardware changes.
The contract was awarded without a competition being run; though the system was given a thorough workout in podded form during trials held last year in Sweden. The award therefore both appears to imply a preference for a UK-generated capability, and its announcement will help Leonardo and Thales in their marketing efforts by underlining MoD’s confidence in the capability and future viability of the system to potential export customers.
“The UK is clearly looking for a sovereign capability,” Innes says. “It’s very important that the UK has selected the capability in sole source. We were very proud of the work we did last year with the UK government during the Swedish live-fire trials, which would have provided the UK government with significant evidence to underpin the capability we’re offering. It’s fair to say that UK defensive aids are world-leading. The UK is a very important customer, of course, but we also have significant interests in our capability in the export market.”
Meanwhile, work continues on upgrades to SHADOW which will result in the fleet being refreshed to a new Mark 2 standard by 2023. Roland Howell, the Managing Director of Raytheon’s airborne ISR business unit based at Broughton, is limited in what he can disclose about the new configuration, but says the company would “expect to see some additions.”
“The main thrust is about connectivity and agility,” he says. “The intent is to have a platform that doesn’t require a transactional contracting mechanism in order to change configurations. It’s supposed to be adaptable.”