Congressional language in the 2017 National Defense Authorisation Act would force the US Air Force to pursue a fixed-price engineering, development and manufacturing contract for the joint surveillance target attack radar system (JSTARS) recapitalisation effort, and delay initial operational capability of the new fleet by about a year, top USAF acquisition officials say this week.

The Senate is pushing for a fixed-price contract for the JSTARS replacement, which the USAF has said will provide an existing battle management command and control capability. By contrast, US Senator John McCain has railed against cost-plus contracts for the engineering, manufacturing and development (EMD) phase of the Northrop Grumman B-21 bomber, and language from his committee questions the need for a similar acquisition strategy for the JSTARS effort.

The USAF would prefer a hybrid approach with a majority of fixed-price portions in the EMD phase and some cost portions, Darlene Costello, principal deputy assistant Secretary of the USAF, tells reporters Wednesday.

“So a generic statement saying it must be a firm fixed price contract for EMD is a challenge for us,” she says.

While the USAF and members of Congress are discussing the strategy, the JSTARS request for proposals is on hold, Costello says. If the Senate forces a fixed-price contract, it would trigger a three- to sixth-month delay as the USAF revises the RFP, Costello says. Rather than meet the 2024 IOC date, the programme could move back a year.

The USAF is not looking for a major leap in technology at this point, but the service does expect that new radar technology will deliver more advanced capabilities to the replacement aircraft, Costello says. Still, the request should leave some flexibility for future advancements, according to Lt Gen Arnold Bunch, military deputy for the assistant secretary of the air force for acquisition.

“The RFP tells the contractors we are expecting an open mission system that will give us the flexibility that we need to go to and do a jump to other capabilities,” he says.