Boeing claims SIGINT prize with US Army contract

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Boeing has won a US Army contract to deliver a new fleet of signals intelligence aircraft called the enhanced medium altitude reconnaissance and surveillance system (EMARSS).

The army's communications electronic command (CECOM) awarded Boeing an $88 million contract on 30 November to launch the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase.

Boeing officials were not immediately available to comment on the EMARSS victory, but details about the contract have been disclosed by competitors.

Last month, L-3 Communications chief executive Michael Strianese described EMARSS to Wall Street analysts as a $1.5 billion programme for at least 30 aircraft. The EMD phase includes orders for six aircraft, plus options for six more aircraft in low rate initial production, Strianese said.

Boeing will integrate a multi-intelligence sensor and data processing system on a Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350ER turboprop. The aircraft's role is to eavesdrop on signal and communication transmissions, and use an electro-optical and infrared camera to identify potential targets from stand-off range.

The concept for EMARSS emerged in the aftermath of the cancellation of the aerial common sensor (ACS) programme in 2006. Rather than launch another acquisition programme to convert a jet-powered aircraft into a surveillance aircraft, the army instead to decided to modify the King Air 350ER.

Last June, Boeing outlined its bidding strategy for EMARSS. At the time, the company was a new competitor in the signals intelligence market. Several of the army's major suppliers, including L-3 Communications, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon - also submitted bids for EMARSS.

But Boeing executives believed that the company's background as a systems integrator on large acquisition programmes would be a key discriminator in the EMARSS competition.

L-3 had already converted the King Air 350 into a surveillance platform for the US Air Force, with orders for 43 MC-12 Libertys. But Boeing noted that the Project Liberty programme used a fast-track acquisition process that differed from the army's more traditional approach on EMARSS.

Boeing also has worked in the past two years to position itself to grow in the signals intelligence market. Earlier this year, the company acquired Argon ST, a communications intelligence supplier to the army.

The EMARSS contract signing is also a major victory for the King Air 350ER, which has gained a new prominence in the special missions market since 2006. The contract also is a boost for Hawker Beechcraft, the aircraft manufacturer, and King Air modification specialists, such as Raisbeck Engineering.