The RFPs issued by the US Air Force on December 28 for its delayed $6.9 billion JSTARS recapitalisation programme will move forward the competition to source a replacement for the E-8C JSTARS aircraft.
Issued after the FY2017 Defense Authorization bill was signed into law on December 23, the RFP removed a requirement imposed by Congression that the procurement be awarded as a fixedcost contract. The RFP opens the deciding stage of the competition between the three teams that had previously received risk reduction funding, those led by Boeing (using a 737-700 airframe), Lockheed Martin (using a Gulfstream G550/G650 airframe) and Northrop Grumman (using a Bombardier 700 airframe).
Under the current plan, a selection decision should be made in FY2018 followed by production of three engineering and manufacturing development aircraft for testing, two low-rate initial development aircraft and 12 full-rate production aircraft. Initial operational capability is planned for the end of FY2024.
The Congress also removed restrictions previously placed on the US Air Force for retiring the U-2 in FY2019. Restrictions were also removed on cross-decking the mission equipment from two EC-130H Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft to two Gulfstream EC-37B aircraft, based on modified G550 airframes. The Congress had previously insisted on an open competition for the EC-130H replacement, but the US Air Force, pointing out that electronics integration work had already been carried out on the G550 for Israel, Italy and Singapore, wanted to use that airframe. Wording used in the conference report of the FY2017 Defense Authorization bill only applied to the first two aircraft of the proposed ten-aircraft programme. Funding will need to be appropriated before further work on the EC-37B – not yet officially recognised as a programme of record by the Department of Defense – can proceed.
David C Isby