Of Military Air Traffic Management and Military Covenants

Military Air Traffic Management:

Confirmation that ‘Project Marshall’, which interestingly had begun life as the ‘Joint Military Air Traffic Service’ programme back in 2005 with an aim of delivering a modern and reliable military air traffic management to all MOD operated sites, has finally been awarded will come as a great relief to all those involved. The award to ‘AQUILA’, a joint venture between NATS and Thales, means that the winning consortium can begin the process of delivering a programme intended to transform terminal air traffic management at military airfields.

I understand that the contract award to the Aquila consortium is valued at around £1.5bn over a period of 22 years. From the outset ‘Project Marshall’ had at its heart the aim to provide a safe, efficient and sustainable Air Traffic Management (ATM) system and service for the whole of the UK Armed Forces whether at home or abroad. The intention is that Air Traffic Management across over one hundred different MOD locations at home and overseas, including more than 60 airfields and ranges, will be substantially modernised and upgraded.

As the winning consortium, AQUILA will be expected to deliver system-wide modernisation and rationalisation of what is currently a fragmented Air Traffic Management system, whilst at the same time establishing a flexible service that complies with known regulatory requirements and that is also future-proofed to meet any potential change in the regulatory and technological landscape. The contract scope will support all Air Traffic Management terminal operations that will continue to be delivered by military air traffic operators.

AQUILA will be expected to deliver new equipment, system upgrades, maintenance, support services and training through the life of the contract and my understanding is that they plan to introduce four new Air Traffic Management hubs that will allow services to be centralised, and thus effectively streamlining the delivery process making better use of new technology. As far as overseas airfields, Royal Navy Air Stations, Army plus others more geographically isolated UK airfields and ranges the plan is that these will continue to operate on a stand-alone basis but will have fully modernised approach and visual control rooms.

The award to the Thales/NATS Aquila consortium comes at a very interesting time in the defence calendar and it has rightly been warmly welcomed by the winning team. Richard Deakin, CEO of NATS, said: “Marshall promises a genuine transformation for the UK’s military Air Traffic Management” while Thales CEO, Victor Chavez, said that “AQUILA brings together the best-in-class providers of Air Traffic Management systems and services to deliver the optimum solution for UK military air operations adding that Thales will draw on its extensive experience of delivering mission critical services to the MOD, and from other infrastructure projects that have demanded 24/7 service availability and required significant upgrades on infrastructure that is in constant use.

For the losing ‘Fusion’ consortium that included Lockheed Martin UK, Cobham and Selex the loss of Project Marshall is clearly disappointing but in saying “that although our bid for Project Marshall has been unsuccessful, we will continue to work closely with the MOD supporting other programmes where we support a wide range of mission critical systems” Lockheed Martin is showing a responsible attitude and approach.

Project Marshall will showcase the best in UK innovation with leading-edge technology deployed at UK controlled military airfields across the UK and overseas. As I had written a few weeks ago in regard of the CAE run helicopter training establishment at RAF Benson, this is yet another example industry working in long term partnership with the MOD for the wider benefit.

Military Covenants:

Promises made by governments to one section of society or another are there to be broken even if they are most often made with the very best of intentions. All governments, no matter whatever their particular colour, shape or size, make promises that they know will be difficult to keep. Find me an election manifesto produced by the actual party that made it into power following an election in which more than half the promises made were kept and I will get off this particular fence. Chances are that you will fail!

The Armed Forces Covenant which is more frequently referred to as the Military Covenant and which the present Coalition Government enacted in all good faith is a perfect example of how easy it is for the best made intentions to go wrong. The Covenant between the people and those there to defend them was long overdue and in an age of mistrust and when evidence that our armed forces were perhaps no longer being held at the level of respect they deserve was certainly needed. The Armed Forces Covenant isn’t there to just protect and support members of our armed forces it is there to support members of their families as well. And by right it is there to support members of our armed forces not just through their service lives, but where what they did during their service career impacts on them through the rest of their lives.

In terms of the specific issue that has been raised today by two eminent members of the medical establishment, Professor Neil Greenberg from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and Professor Tim Briggs, a well know orthopaedic surgeon, and who have both said or implied that the NHS is failing in its specific duty of care in respect of giving service ‘veterans’ priority over everyone else, I would suggest that in part a problem exists because the ‘dictates’ made by one very large government department, in this case the MOD, impact on another, in this case the Department of Health or the NHS.

Another problem that I would highlight in respect of retired service personnel or, to use the now common American term, ‘veterans’ is how on earth can you can possibly expect medical practitioners in the NHS system to know where these people are unless you tell them or that they present themselves at the surgery or hospital? Apparently we don’t count our veterans and we have little idea where they are and where they live. In the computerised world that we live in this does seem strange.

I have absolutely no idea whether, following enactment of the Armed Forces Covenant, the MOD did actually write directly or perhaps, asked the Department of Health to write to GP practices and hospitals informing them that retired service personnel should, on specific issues that relate either to or from their past service careers, be given priority over other patient issues but I rather doubt they did. Indeed, given that doctors have their own specific personal covenant to consider, I doubt that they would too happy being ordered to prioritise patients in this way either.

Given the specific interest that many of you on either my private lists, or as Fellows and Members of the Royal Aeronautical Society who also receive this have in defence, I am sure that we can agree that however much is done for injured service personnel and those discharged on the basis of injuries received, whether these be physical or mental is, can never be enough to repay the gratitude that the country owes to members and former members of our armed forces.

Tomorrow the Defence Select Committee will through a report it is due to publish add more weight to the Military Covenant debate and how this is working, but it is no use lambasting government without understanding that prioritising any section of the community is by its very nature complex and to do this effectively requires that information is first collected and collated. I am quite sure that the Government entered into the Armed Forces Covenant with the very best of intentions whilst failing to understand some of the complications that would emerge from promises being made. I would also have to say that military charities, some of whom I consider by their actions do more damage to the concept of defence than to actually improve it, should and could do a lot more than they are currently doing in terms of communicating with retired service personnel and local healthcare units. It is all very well for the most recent addition to the list of military charities to give an estimate that 75,000 service personnel could suffer mentally and physically as a result of operations in Afghanistan, and remind us that 13,000 service personnel have been medically discharged for musculoskeletal disorders (loss of or serious damage to limbs and joints etc.

We should of course be grateful that weaknesses in the system have been exposed. These must be remedied but to those who raise the problem and also those that seek to stand in support of ex-servicemen, there is no use raising a problem without putting forward a solution. The solution is communication and by providing help and assistance as opposed to proffering criticism.

CHW (London – 29th October 2014)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS


Tel: 07710 7797865

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