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“Significant Obsolescence Issues”: IBM Lands MOD Extension for Aging UK Air Control System

"Significant obsolescence issues in the supportability of the core system"

By CBR Staff Writer

IBM has landed an £8 million contract extension — without competition — from the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to provide 12 months’ more support for the command and control infrastructure of the UK’s aging Air Surveillance and Control System; a move that suggests plans to upgrade UK air defences may face some delay.

The extension to the £56 million contract came without a competitive contract notice, and emphasised the ongoing challenges in upgrading the legacy systems that underpin protection of UK airspace and the MOD’s ability to scramble jets.

(The contract also serves as fresh reminder that the MOD’s estate is not always a lodestar of cutting edge tech. Among other examples: its continued reliance on punched paper tape to distribute and load cryptographic keys, including for military radios. Work is afoot however to hugely overhaul its digital capabilities. The Army has also been recruiting a new Chief Technology Officer as part of that drive).

Look out for our comprehensive interview with British Army CIO Major General Jonathan Cole tomorrow on Computer Business Review. 

The MOD claimed exemption from public procurement rules on “absence of competition for technical reasons” grounds, saying no other contractor could handle the “UCCS” (UK Air Surveillance and Control System Command and Control System) given its complexity and bespoke components from IBM.

“Many individual hardware and software components”

“As the original system designer and manufacturer, IBM have over 19 years’ experience operating the UCCS system which is complex and requires significant expertise and experience to integrate the many individual hardware and software components that it is made up from,” the MOD said in a contract notice posted July 30.

“The UCCS system is aging with significant obsolescence issues in the supportability of the core system and the associated voice communications system”, the MOD admitted.

“It is considered that only the contractor has the technical experience and expertise and tooling at its disposal to support this critical system prior to its end of service, when it will be replaced by the MoD’s new Guardian system (which was procured via a competitive tender exercise advertised in the OJEU.)

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Project Guardian

IBM has also won the competitive contract to replace the system, which underpins the UK’s ability to scramble jets in response to threats in and around its airspace.

That contract, publicly announced in 2018 and dubbed “Project Guardian” is worth some £80 million to the company. It was not immediately clear when it is hoped to be completed. Official documents suggest that MOD assessments of requirements to replace the system began in early August 2014.

It will see IBM replace the existing UCCS system, believed to be at RAF Boulmer and RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, as well as in the Falkland Isles.

An earlier tender notice suggested that it will include a core aircraft control system  with a new voice communications system that connects the UK Defence Network of radars and radios. A major part of Project Guardian is the intention to ensure Integrated “Link 16” (a military data network used by NATO) communications and interoperability with NATO systems and networks.

See also: MOD Hands Microsoft £17 Million Azure Support Contract – Without Competitive Tender

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