British Aerospace is in talks with Northrop Grumman over teaming on the latter's controversial bid to meet the UK's £750 million ($1.2 billion) airborne stand-off radar (ASTOR) requirement with a variant of its Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS).

The UK contest has assumed greater importance for Northrop Grumman, and the US Government, after the NATO decision on 5 November to reject a US "Fast Track" offer of four Northrop Grumman E-8 JSTARS for the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) requirement.

BAe confirms that it is in talks with Northrop Grumman about the role it could play, as the US company assembles a team. One option could be to place aircraft-modification work at BAe's plant at Prestwick, in Scotland.

Northrop Grumman has been allowed to re-enter the ASTOR competition under the aegis of a UK-US Government-to-Government deal. Senior UK Treasury officials and the US Presidential office have been instrumental in orchestrating the move.

Lockheed Martin (ironically soon to be Northrop Grumman's new owner) and Raytheon had been selected by the UK Ministry of Defence as the two final ASTOR competitors. Northrop Grumman had been ruled out on two previous occasions as non-compliant.

The Government-to-Government agreement allows Northrop Grumman to re-offer a variant of its JSTARS. Like the Raytheon bid, this is based around the Bombardier Global Express business jet, although a Gulfstream V solution is also being considered.

In a bid to circumvent the problem that the original JSTARS radar did not meet the UK cardinal-point specification, the USA is offering the UK a share in a "black" radar programme. Northrop Grumman is also considering whether a modified JSTARS radar, or potentially one of the competitor's offerings, could be offered to the MoD.

The NATO decision to reject the Fast Track, as well as a longer-term E-8 procurement proposal, has resulted in the NATO project office being tasked with a six-month study into a new procurement approach. The US Government has withdrawn its offer of four E-8s, and Northrop Grumman is likely to propose its UK ASTOR solution to meet the NATO AGS.

Source: Flight International