new air traffic management system is operational at RAF Shawbury in a £1.5 billion contract transforming air traffic management for the UK military. Designed to ensure safe and resilient military flying operations, the contract will integrate and support modern, innovative equipment with existing infrastructure. Variations will be rolled out across more than 60 Ministry of Defence sites in the UK and overseas by 2024, including Cyprus, Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands.

The equipment allows controllers improved situational awareness enhancing flight safety, with digital upgrades including touch screen communications, clearer radar pictures and improved flight information and positioning – all of which will be available on upgraded controller consoles. Around 300 jobs have been secured in Fareham and other areas of the UK since the contract was awarded to Aquila Air Traffic Management Services Ltd in 2014 – a joint venture between Thales and National Air Traffic Services.

Minister for Defence Procurement, Jeremy Quin, said: “Ensuring our drones, fighter jets, helicopters and cargo aircraft operate safely and efficiently is critical to maintaining our capabilities and supporting our service personnel. This state-of-the-art system is another example of how we are putting innovation at the forefront of everything we do.”

The £1.5 billion programme, known as Marshall, provides improved reliability, quality of service and cost savings by using Aquila Engineering teams to maintain the equipment. The programme is expected to save the UK taxpayer up to £317 million across the next 22 years. The air traffic system includes a £400 million investment in advanced surveillance radars and a wide range of sophisticated equipment such as tower systems, new surveillance and navigation aids and radios.

Madeline Wild, associate defence analyst at GlobalData, a data and analytics company, said “The UK’s ATM launch is a step towards the country’s aim to embrace innovation in every area of equipment and weaponry. The perhaps less flashy but integral command and control tech’ doesn’t get talked about often— usually larger weapon platforms—but this move is evidence of the country’s continued investment in more niche areas of defence. The ATM system’s upgraded controller consoles, equipped with clearer radar pictures and improved flight information and positioning, will allow operations to take place more safely and efficiently. Further, upgrades such as touchscreen communication systems will allow users to carry out crucial tasks using reliable and up-to-date technology. Beyond the control tower, the system also provides new surveillance radars, tower systems and navigation aids and radios.

“The ability to procure and embrace innovative technologies is a key strategic goal of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). An Integrated Review and Defence Command paper last year set out plans to modernise and refresh all aspects of the UK Armed Forces, while the Defence Innovation Initiative—made up of the Defence Acceleration Initiative and the Defence Innovation Fund—exemplifies the MoD’s commitment to finding and adopting new technologies from both military and civilian backgrounds. Indeed, the £1.5 billion contract, awarded to Aquila Air Traffic Management Services in 2014, has provided the Royal Air Force (RAF) with a system that will help maintain an agile and globally deployable Air Force. In the past, the UK Armed Forces has received criticism over the length of time it takes for new technologies to become operational and utilised by personnel on the front line. Therefore, stakeholders in the ATM system program will be relieved that the first stage of its rollout is complete, and its deliverance has been smooth sailing.”

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