From its Broughton facility in north Wales, Raytheon UK (Stand S9-110) is responsible for looking after the Shadow and Sentinel aircraft fleets of the Royal Air Force. Tasked with intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR), the two types are currently heavily involved in operations, which makes undertaking scheduled maintenance more difficult to accomplish without reducing operational capability.
That challenge has become more crucial for the Sentinel fleet since one of the five aircraft was withdrawn on budgetary grounds in March. To offset this apparent shortfall, Raytheon UK has streamlined its maintenance processes so that ‘downtime’ is considerably reduced. For instance, the 10-year ‘HC’ check for the Sentinel, which requires a complete strip-down, took a year for the first aircraft to go through the process. By the third machine, that period had been reduced to six months.
Raytheon has had an integrated support solution in place for the Sentinel since last October to maintain the aircraft through to its out-of-service date in 2021.
That includes addressing obsolescence issues and to implement system upgrades. The aircraft’s AESA dual-band SAR/GMTI radar will be improved, with either an upgrade or a replacement being studied. Mission software and satellite communications are also being improved.
Sentinel continues to deliver unrivalled high-altitude wide-area intelligence, the need for which has not diminished, and will require some replacement if the aircraft is retired in 2021 as planned.
Based on the Beechcraft King Air, the Shadow system is also supported under a contract that extends to 2019. Raytheon is leading a programme to deliver a long-term support solution that will run from then until a planned retirement in 2030.
In the next few weeks, elements of the programme, such as Part 145 maintenance and Part M airworthiness elements, will be put out to competition. The Shadow has been brought into the core from urgent operational requirement status, and it will be receiving spiral upgrades as a result.
Under the 2015 defence review, the Shadow fleet was authorised to grow from five to eight, and the additional three aircraft have been bought and are undergoing modification.
The RAF and Raytheon are now studying what a ‘Mk 2’ Shadow might be. Although there are no specifics, the aircraft will likely become fully networked and more software-controlled, introducing an ‘app-based’ approach to different mission requirements.
To provide this support for the ISR fleet, Raytheon UK has moved into a second hangar at Hawarden airfield in Wales, and is increasing the special-mission aircraft workforce. By the end of this year, it will have increased from 160 to 200, and then to 230 by next April.