IBM middleware may refuel veteran aircraft

Age shows no signs of wearying the RAF's Nimrod aircraft, which IBM UK is now bidding to upgrade

IBM UK has joined the Lockheed Martin consortium competing to win the contract for Project Helix, the reconnaissance upgrade to the Royal Air Force's veteran fleet of Nimrod R Mk1 aircraft.

The upgrade will include replacing the electronics and mission systems in the RAF's veteran fleet of four-engined aircraft. According to Lockheed Martin, IBM will be focused on real-time middleware services, content and knowledge management.

The announcement was made at the biennial International Air Show, held this week at Farnborough.

The Lockheed Martin-led team is developing UK-specific elements for the Helix system architecture. The overall project will cost £500m.

"We are delighted to add IBM UK to our team," said John Mengucci, vice president and general manager of the Department of Defence Systems for Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems and Solutions. "IBM UK will assist us in ensuring the system remains technically agile and robust over decades of service."

The Nimrod R Mk1 is the UK's electronic reconnaissance aircraft and is a veteran design originally developed as the De Havilland Comet in the 1950s. In its reconnaissance role, the aircraft examines radio and radar emissions and provides electronic combat support to military commanders.

Originally designed as a maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft, a number of Nimrod aircraft were adapted for this "secondary role", where the original maritime equipment was removed and replaced with a suite of systems used for electronic reconnaissance. Project Helix will extend this capability.

As lead systems integrator, Lockheed Martin's Integrated Systems and Solutions leads one of two teams selected by the MoD for Project Helix's "programme-definition" phase. One team will be selected for a "risk-reduction" phase in late 2006. A production contract for the electronic reconnaissance equipment is expected to start in 2007.