Lockheed Martin has leaped into the competition to replace the US Air Force Northrop Grumman E-8C JSTARS fleet, forming an alliance with radar and battle management and control specialist Raytheon, says Rob Weiss, head of the Skunk Works.
The pair – along with L-3 Communications – unites the technology developed by Raytheon for the active array sensor (AAS) programme with Lockheed’s open systems expertise demonstrated a year ago under Project Missouri.
“We think this is really a differentiating capability for the Skunk Works versus our competition,” says Weiss.
Rivals for the USAF contract already include a Boeing offering based on the 737, a Gulfstream proposal based on the G650 and a Northrop bid premised on the Gulfstream G550.
The USAF has not settled on whether it needs a converted airliner or business jet to replace the Boeing 707-based E-8C fleet. A previous attempt to replace the E-8C with a Northrop solution based on the Boeing 767-400ER was cancelled due to excessive costs.
Performance requirements released by the USAF so far suggest service officials have learned a lesson. Rather than scaling up the E-8C platform and crew, this time the USAF wants to downsize the platform, radar and crew size. The E-8C radar, for example, is 6.71m (18ft) long, and now the USAF is seeking a radar between 3.96m-6.1m in length.
As the eyes of the ground forces in any weather, the sensor on the E-8C replacement is a major focus. About a decade ago, Raytheon developed the littoral surveillance radar system (LSRS) for the US Navy’s P-3C fleet, giving that platform a radar that could detect and track moving vehicles and vessels. The USN then tasked Raytheon to develop the AAS for the Boeing P-8A.
The AAS technology is “part of what we can use”, Weiss says.
At this point, Lockheed has not decided on which aircraft platform to offer, preferring to wait until the USAF chooses to use a 737-sized aircraft or a business jet-sized aircraft.
“We’re positioned so we can go either direction,” Weiss says.
The battle management command and control (BMC2) system will leverage Lockheed’s Project Missouri. That internal effort developed an open systems architecture that enabled a new communications pod to digitally connect fifth-generation fighters, such as F-35 and F-22, with data links used by previous generation fighters. It was also used to integrate four new sensors on the U-2S, along with an Internet Protocol-based data link.