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11 June 2015

Smart Vest Benelux Contract Awarded to Elbit Systems, Thales Netherlands

The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxemburg have opted for Elbit Systems together with Thales Netherlands for their joint “smart vest” project, it has emerged. One of three nations involved, Belgium will sign a contract for an initial batch of 40 preproduction vests in June, it has been announced by Belgian minister of defence Steven Vandeput. On 4 June, the Dutch MoD informed parliament indicating it has decided to award a contract to Elbit for both preproduction and production series systems unlike the other two participating nations which still need to decide about the next step. The Dutch MoD is the single contracting nation on behalf of all Benelux participants since Belgium and Luxemburg joined the “smart vest” project in April 2011. The “smart vest Benelux” project has been hampered by delay, in no small part due to one of the bidders, Sagem, going to court after the Dutch-Israeli consortium had been selected as the winning bid in May 2014.

In addition to Thales Netherlands/Elbit Systems Land and C4I, Sagem, and Cassidian (now Airbus Defence & Space) had also been downselected earlier on as preferred bidders for the new “smart vest,” after another proposal by Rheinmetall had been rejected.  The project attracted a lot of media attention in the Netherlands last year when it emerged that in December 2013 documents containing financial details of all three bids had been stolen out of the car of one of the Dutch Defence Materiel Organisation officials involved in the project. The Dutch MoD was cleared of all charges by a Dutch court on 31 October, this clearing the way for procurement of the soldier modernisation system to be finalized despite Sagem lodging an appeal with a court decision expected in late this year at the earliest.

Award criteria included life cycle costs, logistics and quality assurance together with three direct criterions that were part of the technical evaluation. These were operational capabilities, system design and support. Operational capabilities that were looked into included survivability, C2, mobility and sustainability while design features that were deemed important included system architecture, electrical and software architecture, transmission aspects and the load carriage and protection (LCP) system architecture. Training and education, sustainment and maintenance together with system deployment were weighed as part of the overarching support criterion. The dominant factor for Elbit’s number one ranking was its score during the technical evaluation which was done under the guidance of the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research TNO.

A derivative of the DOMINATOR system, Elbit’s “smart vest” solution is believed to include a Tadiran PNR-1000 MANET software defined radio. Sagem which was ranked second is known to have proposed a solution using experience from the FELIN programme for the French army. The French company selected Raytheon’s MicroLight DH500 radio after it had earlier opted for the Harris RF-7800S series Secure Personal Radio, also selected by Cassidian, since known as Airbus DS, for its bid. The Benelux requirement is for more than 10,000 vests. This includes 5,500 vests for lead customer the Netherlands as part of its current VOSS or Improved Operational Soldier System programme which followed the earlier Soldier Modernisation Programme started in 1998. Belgium has a need for approximately 4,500 systems under its Belgian Soldier Transformation (BEST) programme while Luxemburg will likely receive a couple of hundred systems as part of its Cooperative Modernisation Program of the Army for a Soldier System (COMPASS). Initially, a small number of preproduction vests will be procured, 80 for the Netherlands, 40 for Belgium and 15 for Luxemburg, which will be used for operational tests that will build on trials that were conducted from mid 2012 using test models delivered by the three bidding parties. The latest tests which are planned to end in late 2016 should pave the way for series production of the “smart vest” with deliveries to be completed in 2020 A separate support contract will also be awarded once these trials have been completed succesfully.

Pieter Bastiaans

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