Boeing has outlined details of its bid to offer a signals intelligence version of the increasingly popular Beechcraft King Air 350ER to the US Army.

The company has joined a varied list of potential bidders for the enhanced medium-altitude reconnaissance surveillance system (EMARSS) contract. The requirement appears to supersede previous plans to acquire a jet-powered aerial common sensor (ACS) aircraft to replace the service's ageing RC-7 and RC-12 fleets.

Boeing plans to submit a bid before the army's deadline for proposals by 25 June, says Roger Krone, its president of networks and space systems.

The company's sales team met behind closed doors over the weekend of 19 June to map out a sales strategy, Krone says.

Boeing faces a strong challenge from rival L-3 Communications, which is already adapting at least 37 King Air 350s into MC-12W Libertys for the US Air Force. As communication intelligence collectors, the Libertys will perform a similar mission to EMARSS.

Beechcraft King Air 350i
 © Beechcraft

Despite L-3's background with Project Liberty, Boeing believes that differences in the army's acquisition strategy for the EMARSS contract will tilt the advantage for the competition.

Krone says L-3 converted the MC-12W Libertys under a rapid response acquisition initiative. But the army plans to buy EMARSS under a more traditional, competitive acquisition process.

The EMARSS contract winner will "need to have large-scale integration experience", Krone says. "L-3 is not known to be a large-scale integrator. They're more of a quick-reaction kind of shop," he says.

L-3 may argue that it has demonstrated large-scale integration experience under the Joint Cargo Aircraft programme, in which the company is supplying at least 38 Alenia Aeronautica C-27Js to the USAF. L-3 also considers that 70% of its current revenue comes from prime integration contracts.

Boeing also argues that it knows how to design an aircraft that can meet the army's concerns about technical risk.

The army wants the EMARSS fleet to be delivered with extra capacity to accept growth in the size, weight, power and cooling requirements of the SIGINT payload, Krone says.

"We think we understand the motivation of the customer," Krone says. "We're a great manager of the value stream and a great manager of the supply chain. We've been able to maintain objective-level weight margins on our offer."

Source: Flight International