In a letter from SAAB to the Defence Select Committee Chairman, the company express concern over the lack of competition in the programme to replace the British E-3D Sentry aircraft fleet.
AWACS aircraft perform an important function on operations, providing long-range early warning and surveillance capability alongside airborne battle management and communications relay functions. The Royal Air Force possesses six Boeing E-3D Sentry AWACS aircraft.
Saab also point out that there have been no specifications or requirements made available to them.
“MoD officials have been briefed on some of our capabilities but at no time have we seen a UK requirement against which we can tailor our offer. Without sight of the requirement, it is hard to say that a competition can be held.
MoD officials have been briefed on some of our capabilities but at no time have we seen a UK requirement against which we can tailor our offer. Without sight of the requirement, it is hard to say that a competition can be held.”
The letter, which also highlights that Saab had intended to mount the system on an A330, ends with:
“Our intention is simply to ensure that the UK is aware of the capability that our systems provide, their ability to operate within and against the very latest threats facing the country, and to do so in a cost effective manner. We also firmly believe that we offer unrivalled capability now and through Erieye’s life.
If unstated political reasons exist for a non-competitive approach to replacing the E-3D AWACS then we would be grateful if this could be indicated to us and we will cease marketing in the UK.
Notwithstanding any unknown political factors, we are concerned by the lack of competition and the lack of dialogue and response from MoD. Lastly, we are platform agnostic and will continue to offer Erieye to our customers’ platforms of choice.”
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson recently announced that the Ministry of Defence is in discussion with Boeing about the potential for the E-7 Wedgetail aircraft (pictured above) to replace the current Sentry fleet.
The Chairman of the Defence Committee had previously written to the Minister of Defence Procurement to request that any requirement for replacing the Sentry aircraft be put out to a competitive tender, rather than bought ‘off the shelf’ with no competition taking place.
In its letter the Committee criticises the Sentry fleet’s poor state of maintenance. The readiness and number of flying hours completed by aircraft have been reducing, and the Committee has heard anecdotal evidence that only one of the six E-3D aircraft is available for service at any one time. On the possibility of Sentry being replaced with a new system, the letter notes the advantages of a competitive tender in terms of maximising value for money and allowing proper consideration of a range of alternatives. The Committee also considers that a competition is particularly appropriate in this case, as there are viable alternatives available which deserve to be given fair consideration.
Defence Committee Chairman Dr Julian Lewis MP said:
“AWACS is an important capability for the UK to maintain, particularly given the possibility of future conflict taking place in a heavily contested airspace against peer adversaries. The fact that the capacity of the RAF’s current AWACS fleet has been run down to such a low level is greatly to be regretted.
The Ministry of Defence, if it seeks to replace Sentry with an entirely new system, has the opportunity to regenerate this capability and to give proper consideration to the range of available alternatives through a competitive tender. The benefits of doing so are clear, and this is exactly the kind of engagement that the Department should be seeking with industry in its drive to modernise Defence.”