Industry invited to negotiate for UK Tiquila programme

A range of UK and overseas defence companies have been invited to negotiate for the UK’s Tiquila programme, which is intended to deliver two types of unmanned aerial system (UAS) into service to aid in intelligence, surveillance target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) operations.

Publishing the contract notice on August 25, the UK Ministry of Defence’s Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) stated that the Tiquila programme will provide a mini-unmanned air system (MUAS) in man-packable and man-portable loads. The man-packable MUAS will weigh up to 8kg, while the man-portable MUAV will have a maximum take-off weight of up to 20kg.

British Army Desert Hawk
The British Army is seeking new small UAS platforms, having operated the Desert Hawk for more than ten years. UK MOD/Crown copyright

Both systems are intended to be operated from a common ground control station (GCS) and have an electro-optical/infra-red (EO/IR) payload that meets programme requirements.

Companies invited to tender for the Systems Integrator role include: Qinetiq, Lockheed Martin UK, Raytheon Systems, Leonardo UK, Elbit Systems UK, BAE Systems, Sierra Nevada Corporation, PA Consulting Services, Motorola Solutions UK, Thales UK, Babcock Integrated Technology and General Dynamics UK.

Under the contract, the systems Integrator would provide systems and support for the UK, with the UAVs likely to be operated by the British Army.

The anticipated contract duration will be for a period of 120 months, with possible options to extend beyond this period up to a maximum of 24 months and/or to vary the volume of goods and services to be delivered. Valued at between £149-390m (US$205-537m), the contract is scheduled to begin in August next year.

A UK Ministry of Defence spokesperson told AIR International that the Tiquila programme would mark “a significant enhancement” to current mini-UAS capabilities, but that it “could not be viewed as a direct replacement” for existing capabilities.

The spokesperson added that precise platform numbers would be subject to contract negotiations.

At the top end weight of the Tiquila programme, a 20kg platform would be fixed-wing, similar in size to the ubiquitous ScanEagle produced by Boeing-Insitu, and likely provide an endurance of three-to-five hours. The smaller platform, at up to 8kg, could include a range of fixed or rotary platforms.

Operated at the tactical level, mini-UAS provide small formations with an immediate ISTAR capability and increasingly common in the modern battlespace. The British Army operated FLIR Systems’ Black Hornet Nano until 2017 to aid operations in Afghanistan, with the company awarded a US$1.8m deal in 2019 to deliver the Black Hornet 3 system as part of the UK MOD’s Transformation Fund Rapid Procurement Initiative.

The service has also operated Lockheed Martin’s sub-4kg, hand-launched Desert Hawk III platform (pictured) since 2005, and in 2017 had over 200 of the type in its inventory. The company has since developed the larger 8kg Desert Hawk Extended Endurance and Range (DH-EER), which has a flight endurance of up to ten hours.

The British Army also operates the larger Watchkeeper WK450 platform, based on Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450, although the fleet has suffered from a number of platform losses due to mid-air collisions and crash-landings during training in the UK and overseas.

By Richard Thomas