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SKYKEEPER is a Battle Management, Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (BMC4I) system. It is designed for ground-based air defence (GBAD), Counter-Unmanned Air System (C-UAS) and Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) applications. The system was designed, developed and produced by Lockheed Martin UK, Ampthill, Bedford. This is significant as the system has UK Intellectual Property (IP), meaning that its export and utilisation are solely subject to UK regulations.

The roots of the SKYKEEPER system can be found in two other systems, the first of these was Automated Sense and Warn (AS&W) which entered service in 2009. AS&W is a deployable C-RAM system that detects incoming projectiles and provides warning so that personnel can take cover. The system was used in Afghanistan. The AS&W system was never linked to an effector such as a land-based CIWS; it was solely a warning system.

The second system that provided the basis for SKYKEEPER was called Land Environment Air Picture Provision (LEAPP). It entered service in 2013. LEAPP provides airspace management and surveillance for a land component commander up to divisional level, fusing data from various sensors and correlating that data. LEAPP was starting to have a number of obsolescence issues. It was based on an old Windows operating system that was becoming insecure; it was not compatible with new Link 16 terminals and there were issues with Mode 5 IFF data display.

It might just look like a ruggedised computer and some screens, but the key to what is happening here is the Lockheed Martin UK SKYKEEPER software that provides a full BMC4I capability, with the system being modular in structure and sensor, effector and communications agnostic. Photo: Lockheed Martin UK

A Modular System

To turn back the tide of obsolescence for LEAPP, Lockheed Martin UK proposed to the MoD that they integrate their SKYKEEPER software into the LEAPP system and the resulting integration would remove the obsolescence issues and add in a host of new capabilities, for example integrating an increased number of sensors to the existing system, fundamentally enhancing its capabilities. The key element here is that SKYKEEPER is a modular system that can be configured as the operator sees fit. It is also sensor and communications system agnostic and can be integrated with a large number of different effectors. The MoD agreed to the proposal and a contract was signed in December 2021 that effectively sees LEAPP evolve into SKYKEEPER and therefore have the ability to become a fully capable BMC4I system.

As previously noted, the LEAPP system was originally designed to inhabit the land battlespace. This would allow to coverage of ground forces elements from a battle group up to a division-sized force. Lockheed Martin in the US looked at what its UK activity was doing in terms of BMC4I and saw the opportunity to develop GBAD Battle Management System (BMS) that could be scaled as a fully networked GBAD solution that could cover a country. Indeed, Lockheed Martin made a proposal for a HAWK replacement programme in the Middle East with the SKYKEEPER BMC4I system at its heart, linked to the Saab GIRAFFE 4A as its main sensor, with the Diehl Defence IRIS-T SLM missile system as its main effector.

The three elements of the British SKY SABRE air defence system grouped together; the Rafael SAMOC C2 system, the Saab GIRAFFE AMB radar and the CAMM missile system. Britain is now looking for a full GBAD system combining multiple sensors and effectors to deal with broad spectrum threats. Photo: Crown Copyright

Evolving Threats

Clearly, recent events such as the invasion of the Ukraine have forced many countries to analyse their air defence capabilities and to become very concerned about their ability to cope with evolving threats. This has seen one major UK ally located outside of Europe embark on a programme for a country-wide GBAD system combining selected sensors and effectors with a full medium-range engagement capability. It is understood that the SKYKEEPER is being seriously considered as providing the ‘central nervous system’ of this proposed GBAD system providing a fully networked BMC4I functionality. A decision on the fate of this GBAD requirement is expected in the near future.

Meanwhile there are GBAD developments taking place in Britain. In December 2021, 16 Regiment Royal Artillery took first deliveries of the SKY SABRE air defence system. This system consists of the Rafael SAMOC C2 system, the Saab GIRAFFE AMB (Agile Multi Beam) radar and the MBDA CAMM missile system as the effector. In March 2022, the British MOD deployed a SKY SABRE system to Poland to enhance the GBAD capability of a NATO ally. Poland will be utilising the CAMM missile as the central element of a new Polish SHORAD system.

SKY SABRE will act as the replacement for the RAPIER FSC system, but it is only part of the air defence story in Britain. The British government has committed to enhancing British air defences and are currently in the assessment phase for a new fully NATO compliant and compatible GBAD system. Potentially, this will open the way for the SKYKEEPER system to provide the BMC4I structure for this new GBAD system.

David Saw