The IBM system will help track suspicious and unidentified aircraft in UK airspace however some critics have raised concerns about funding for UK defence technology research
The UK Ministry of Defence has announced that it has spent £23m on a fiver year air surveillance system from IBM despite facing questions over how its budget is spent.
In a statement released this week, the MOD announced that it signed a long term deal with IBM for the provision of the UK Air Surveillance Command and Control System (UCCS) which the organisations claim will be able to “identify every one of the thousands of aircraft that are in the skies above the UK at any moment of the day”.
According to air commodore Mark Wordley, air officer battlespace management, the new IBM system will help with the “the defence of the UK Homeland” by allowing RAF monitoring teams to track any aircraft more accurately and respond if necessary.
“The IBM system is used to identify every one of the thousands of aircraft that are in the skies above the UK at any moment of the day. It tracks their movements against filed flight plans and sifts through real-time data to pinpoint suspicious activity,” the statement said. “As a result, Royal Air Force Aerospace Battle Managers at two interlinked centres, Royal Air Force Boulmer in Northumberland and Royal Air Force Scampton in Lincolnshire are able to scramble Tornado or Typhoon fighters to intercept any aircraft that enters NATO and national airspace without proper authorisation or is acting suspiciously.”
IBM will also be responsible for maintaining and upgrading the system. “In plan are extensions to take new types of data feeds from commercial air traffic control centres. Future enhancements will exploit advances in radar and data-link technologies so that information from aircraft in flight can be transmitted and incorporated into the new system,” the statement said.
Amid concerns about how the MOD is spending its budget, according to Graham Richards, project Manager, for the Air Command and Control Systems Integrated Project Team, the UCCS system was completed on budget. “For both ourselves and IBM, it was an impressive achievement to complete such a large and complex project to the satisfaction of users, within budget and on schedule,” he said.
Concerns have been raised by serving personnel and the conservative party amongst others about funding for the MOD. “A decade of Labour’s neglect has left our Army overstretched, undermanned, and in possession of worn-out equipment due to the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The unfunded liability associated with this will total billions of pounds. This is not an assumption, but a fact, ” said shadow defence secretary Liam Fox in January this year.
But despite voicing concerns over lack of investment in frontline troops, the conservatives have also claimed that the Labour government is not spending enough on defence science and technology research. “Defence spending for science and technology has been cut recently by 19 per cent. This is tantamount to strategic suicide, and is testament to Labour’s short-sighted approach to defence policy – especially during the current economic crisis since science and technology companies employ thousands of people throughout the UK,” said Fox.
Fox also went onto to claim that the MOD has been spending money on improving its London headquarters. “We all see the shortcomings in defence and the list of indictments runs long: family accommodation; lack of helicopters; cuts in the Royal Navy; and lack of kit for frontline forces. Yet, with all these shortcomings, the MoD was able to find more than £2bn to pay external consultants and £2.3bn for the refurbishment of the MoD headquarters,” he said.
Concerns about failed MOD projects and overspending prompted the UK National Audit Office to source a tool from IBM to help manage contracts and procurement more effectively.
“An important factor in ensuring project success is choosing the right contracting strategy. Selecting the right one however, given the complex nature of MoD procurement is no easy task,” the NAO stated. “We asked IBM consultants to help us to develop a tool to aid Departmental and industry teams in making a better informed choice of the contracting strategy mot [sic] suited to the circumstances of the procurement.”
The MOD’s chief scientific advisor professor Mark Welland worked as World Trade Visiting Scientist at IBM Research Division in USA between 1985 and 86.
Earlier this month, the MOD announced a five year contract with BT worth around £99m. In a statement BT said that the contract involves supporting communications across 197 military bases with the telecoms and services giant charged with managing voice and data networks in more than a quarter of a million MOD buildings, communications rooms and “underground cable ducts”.