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Son of ASDOT rises from the ashes

4th November 2021 - 09:50 GMT | by Trevor Nash in Holsworthy

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The retirement date for the Hawk T1/1A has been brought forward to March 2022. (Photo: UK MoD)

With the demise of ASDOT nearly three years ago, the UK MoD is looking to fill some live air training gaps with its Operational Readiness Training Aerial Support Service requirement. Is the winner already home and hosed?

Following the collapse of the UK MoD’s Air Support to Defence Operational Training (ASDOT) programme in early 2019 after failing to obtain Main Gate approval, the MoD has now issued a requirement for a ‘medium to fast speed Operational Readiness Training aerial support service (ORTASS)'.

This includes air-to-air live training, the provision of aerial targets, threat simulation and mission augmentation training.

A Prior Information Notice (PIN) from the UK MoD stated that the ORTASS 'is an urgent requirement for the RAF and the intention is to utilise the DSPCR (Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations) Competitive Procedure with Negotiation, using the accelerated timescales'.

The use of the word ‘accelerated’ is perhaps an understatement as the MoD wants ORTASS operations to commence in summer 2022 – a timescale that perhaps presupposes a defined business case and solution from the bidder or bidders.

Interestingly, the PIN also states that ‘due to the security classification of this project, and in accordance with Reg 6(3A)(a) of DSPCR [EU Defence and Security Public Contracts Regulations], any potential competition that follows this PIN will be limited to those suppliers that can provide the requirement with employees who are UK nationals'.

The winner of the ORTASS requirement will be expected to deliver an ‘estimated 2,400 flying hours per annum’ that includes up to four aircraft and a maximum 12 daily sorties ‘in a 15-hour flying window.’

Could Draken Europe be in the driving seat for ORTASS? (Photo: Draken Europe)

Aircraft and operations must be accredited by the UK Civil Aviation Authority or Military Aviation Authority. In addition, the provider must be ‘available to commence contract activities from a UK base within a 30-minute transit time to [the] D323 North Sea training complex.’

Why this requirement is being driven over such a short timeframe is a puzzle. The UK MoD has had plenty of time to redefine its live aerial training needs ever since the Treasury pulled the rug from under ASDOT in early 2019. The writing was also on the wall when the retirement of the Hawk T1/1A was brought forward from 2025 to 31 March 2022, as stated by the MoD in March 2021 in its Command Paper 'Defence in a Competitive Age'.

With the Hawk providing a major input into live aerial training through the likes of the RAF’s 100 Squadron and the Royal Navy’s 736 NAS, its retirement date was pivotal in deciding what the future solution would be.

Compared to ASDOT, in which competitors and teaming arrangements changed massively over the period before the expected contract award, the timeframe for this ORTASS requirement leaves little time for industrial manoeuvring. Does this, therefore, leave the door wide open to Draken Europe?

Following its acquisition of Cobham Aviation Services, the company has a fleet of Falcon 20 target towing and EW aircraft and can draw on a number of different fast-jet aggressor aircraft from its parent company in the US. Its recent work with Collins Aerospace to integrate the latter’s Joint Secure Air Combat Training System (JSAS) with its Falcon 20 fleet to provide tethered and autonomous air combat manoeuvring instrumentation (ACMI) must be considered as a major benefit.

As noted by Shephard in July 2021, the current agreement will see JSAS certificated on the Falcon 20 before the end of the year and then being used to support the operational readiness training for the RAF and RN that is currently provided by Draken Europe.

The smart money must be on Draken, or a Draken-led team, to win this contract. It is then likely that the programme will see additions over time, such as JTAC training, to build it up to what was expected of ASDOT.

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