L3 Communications and the US Air Force will continue their Compass Call cross-deck effort, despite a recent protest from Bombardier over a possible sole-source contract.

The protest will not affect the USAF’s Compass Call acquisition strategy, the service’s military deputy for the assistant secretary of the air force for acquisition says this week. L3 Communications will lead the US Air Force’s Compass Call cross-deck effort, which will transfer existing technology from the EC-130H onto a new aircraft, dubbed the EC-37B.

“[L-3] will make the selection of the aircraft...and they will incorporate and put the mission systems into the platform,” Lt Gen Arnold Bunch said during a 22 March defense conference in Washington. L-3 will not be able to select the platform until Congress has passed the fiscal year 2017 defense spending bill.

“But we have made the decision on how we’re going to go forward,” he says. “We’ve already signed all the paperwork off and what we’re waiting to do is get a bill and then we’ll go forward.”

Last year, the USAF determined Gulfstream’s G550 conformal airborne early warning type the only suitable aircraft to host the Compass Call mission. That sparked concern from competitors Bombardier and Boeing, whose 737 Wedgetail and G6000 were nixed by the service.

Bombardier filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office arguing the USAF’s decision and process for Compass Call was non-compliant with US government procurement rules. Boeing has not issued a bid protest.

“The Air Force’s decision to move forward on the Compass Call program by awarding it to a sole source systems integrator and apparently indirectly to a single source aircraft platform is non-compliant with the procurement rules,” Bombardier tells FlightGlobal. “This process denies Bombardier of a fair opportunity to compete for this contract.”

GAO dismissed the case as premature on 10 March, noting that there is consideration of a sole source contract but that the USAF has not yet issued a solicitation. Bombardier’s protest was anticipating improper action that hasn’t happened yet, a GAO spokesman tells FlightGlobal. However, the GAO did not make a ruling on the merits of Bombardier's protest and the company will have another opportunity to raise concerns with the procurement, Bombardier says.

Bombardier argues the company demonstrated that all technical and schedule requirements could be fulfilled, but air force documents state the G6000 BACN does not meet aperture requirements without modification and will require a supplemental type certification that could incur up to $180 million in additional costs and a three-year schedule delay. The USAF also called the G6000’s payload capacity “marginally insufficient.” The USAF’s Compass Call requirements call for a total cargo capacity of 20,000lb including 13,000lb of prime mission equipment.

The air force called out the Wedgetail’s aperture requirements and also stated the aircraft could not meet performance requirements without caveats. The Wedgetail must burn significant gas to reach its maximum 41,000ft altitude, trading loiter time for altitude, and is unable to meet both, according to the USAF.

Although the Compass Call recapitalisation would represent a substantial win on its own, defense contractors might also be wary about the award outcome’s impact on other E-model programmes within the USAF. In September, Boeing military aircraft’s director of global sales Fred Smith told reporters he believed the sole source could impact the JSTARS competition.

Last year, the Air Force Office of Transformational Innovation explored the use of a common business jet for multiple battle management command-and-control platform recapitalisations. The office considered using a commercially available aircraft for several recapitalisation efforts, including the EC-130, E-8 JSTARS and E-3 AWACS. The study looked at "space, payload, power, cooling, in-flight refueling, and mission growth potential” on the jet, according to OTI.

While OTI determined last June that a common business jet would not garner significant savings for the USAF, the study intimates that the service sees commonality between those platforms and recapitalisation efforts. In September, then-Air Combat Command Chief Gen Herbert Carlisle maintained the Compass Call acquisition strategy would not affect the JSTARS recapitalisation, noting the EC-130H mission set, sensor suite and crew configuration vary from JSTARS.

Source: FlightGlobal.com