(Adds CEO comments, MoD confirmation)
FANRBOROUGH, England, July 14 Britain's Ministry
of Defence said its Sentinel programme would remain in service
until 2018, giving the country three more years of the
surveillance aircraft capability which it recently used in
Nigeria to help look for 200 missing schoolgirls.
Raytheon Co, the U.S. maker of radar, missiles and
other defence electronics, said it would improve software on the
Sentinel to make it better equipped for maritime surveillance to
help support the government's plan to extend its lifespan.
Britain, which had planned to retire Sentinel in 2015, did
not put a figure on how much it was paying to fund the extension
but said the bill would be covered by a 1.1 billion pound ($1.9
billion) defence investment announced earlier on Monday.
The new money would help bolster the country's ability to
respond to threats such as global terrorism, the government
Britain has cut defence spending by around 8 percent over
the last four years as part of a government plan to reduce a
record budget deficit and had proposed retiring Sentinel,
operated by the Royal Air Force, as a cost-saving measure in its
2010 defence review.
Sentinel has been deployed by Britain in Afghanistan, Libya,
Mali and more recently Nigeria.
Raytheon CEO Tom Kennedy welcomed Britain's decision
and said it reflected the airplane's performance, reliability
and proven intelligence-gathering and communications
capabilities during military engagements, as well as in
monitoring UK flooding.
"The Sentinel has been a tremendous asset to the UK,"
Kennedy told Reuters.
($1 = 0.5877 British Pounds)
(Reporting by Sarah Young, Andrea Shalal and Kylie MacLellan;
Editing by Mark Potter)