UK’s new military air traffic management suite falls short of cost savings targets

LONDON – The first element of a major overhaul of Britain’s military air traffic management system has become fully operational, but the Defense Ministry has admitted that the savings expected from the program are drastically reduced.

The Royal Air Force base in Shawbury, Shropshire, where UK military helicopter flight training takes place, is the first of more than 60 sites in the UK and overseas to start using updated systems and support as part of a £ 1.5 billion air traffic transformation. management assigned to Aquila Air Traffic Management Services in 2014.

The introduction of advanced technology as a result of the so-called Marshall program will be a big step forward for Britain’s aging defense air traffic management capabilities, but it has cost more expensive than expected. In other words, the savings from the program over its 22-year lifespan will only be one-third of the forecast at the time of contract signing.

At the time of the award of Aquila, an industry partnership between Thales UK and National Air Traffic Services, the Department of Defense was forecasting savings of up to £ 1 billion, or $ 1.36 billion.

In the announcement on January 7, 2022, the Department of Defense said savings would not exceed £ 317million, or $ 432million, over the course of the program.

“The Marshall program will save hundreds of millions of pounds for the taxpayer as it continues to provide services to the British armed forces by providing cutting edge technology in air traffic management,” said a door -speak.

The Defense Ministry has not given a reason for the savings gap, but sources say several factors were behind a revision of the optimistic figures at the end of 2014.

It is believed to be an increase in the number of staff required to run the program and a government decision that value added tax for contracted services should be applied to the agreement.

Timing, such as meeting initial operational capability, was also an issue.

When the program was initially approved in 2014, the completion of the installation of the equipment was scheduled for March 2021.

In a context of growing difficulties for the program, the schedule was reset in 2017-2018, to December 2024.

Full operational capacity at more than 60 Ministry of Defense sites remains on track for 2024.

Despite the savings and schedule setbacks, the Defense Ministry’s announcement appears to seal a significant turnaround in the fate of a program that at one point was heavily criticized by the powerful Infrastructure Authority and government projects like seeming “unachievable” because of the difficulties it was in.

Last year, the Authority, which reports to the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, said the project was “likely” to be completed.

The new capability includes a £ 400million ($ 545million) investment in new surveillance radars and a wide range of equipment such as tower systems, new surveillance and navigation aids and radios.

The agreement between Aquila and the Ministry of Defense saw the industry partnership contracted for the supply, maintenance and installation of new and updated air traffic management equipment and to train maintainers and operators. operators over a period of 22 years.

The program combines in one agreement what were previously more than 70 individual contracts in the defense air traffic management sector.

In addition to sites in the UK, the British are also installing Marshall equipment at bases overseas, including Gibraltar, the Falklands and Cyprus.

Gibraltar is expected to be the first overseas location to benefit from Marshall. The supply of equipment to modernize the Falkland Islands military air traffic management system is also underway. Two new systems for deployed operations are also included in the program.

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