Northrop Grumman has chosen to withdraw from the competition to provide next-generation satellites to the UK military for improved battlefield communications. The decision from the American company came after a thorough review of the invitation to negotiate for the SkyNet 6 narrowband military satellite communications program. However, Northrop did not disclose the specific reasons behind its withdrawal.
Northrop Grumman had partnered with Airbus to deliver the satellites for the £6 billion ($7.5 billion) project. Airbus has declined to comment on Northrop’s decision, leaving Thales UK as the sole contender for the program. It remains unclear whether the British government will continue with the preliminary stages or restart the competition.
The SkyNet program, launched in 2020, aims to provide strategic communication services to the UK armed forces and its allies. The goal is to leverage new space assets along with commercial services to establish a reliable and robust communications network. It is expected that there will be up to three wideband GEO satellite systems, as well as associated ground equipment and launch operations support.
The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has underscored the importance of smooth and secure communications for combat ships and fighter jets. These advancements are crucial for more effective attacks. The UK defense ministry had anticipated the first satellite for the SkyNet program to be launched in 2025. However, Northrop’s withdrawal raises concerns about the future of the program, especially since Airbus has been responsible for operating the previous SkyNet 5 network for the past 18 years. Airbus had also received a contract to supply the SkyNet 6A satellite to address potential capability gaps until the next-generation SkyNet 6 is produced and launched.