Northrop Grumman has formally entered the race to win a US Army contract to deliver a new fleet of signals intelligence aircraft.

The announcement adds the company to a growing list of declared rivals - including Boeing and L-3 Communications - bidding for the enhanced medium-altitude reconnaissance and surveillance system (EMARSS).

The army wants a prime contractor to integrate a small but sophisticated suite of multiple SIGINT collectors on to Beechcraft King Air 350ERs.

Payloads include an electro-optical camera and low-band communications interceptors.

Northrop has not revealed details about the proposal submitted to the army before the 25 June deadline. But it already boasts deep connections within the service's airborne SIGINT community. Northrop supports the RC-12 Guardrail fleet and supplies the Hunter Green Dart payload for the MQ-5B Hunter unmanned air system.

More recently, Northrop also won an army contract to deliver a hybrid airship called the long-endurance multi-intelligence vehicle (LEMV), which is expected to remain on station for up to three weeks. Northrop is partnered with UK-based Hybrid Air Vehicles for the project.

By comparison, L-3 is a major player in the SIGINT community, supplying the King Air 350-based MC-12 Liberty fleet to the US Air Force and the Shorts C-23B Sherpa-based Constant Hawk system to the army.

Boeing, meanwhile, has recently launched a strategic move to expand into the airborne SIGINT market. Recent acquisitions include SIGINT subcontractors Digital Receiver Technologies and Argon ST.

The army launched EMARSS in late 2009 after dropping a plan to relaunch a competition for a jet-powered Aerial Common Sensor fleet.

Instead, the service now plans to deploy an aerial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system with several layers, including the AAI RQ-7 Shadow and Boeing A160 Hummingbird UAS, EMARSS and the LEMV airship.

Source: Flight International