Northrop Grumman, Gulfstream and L-3 Aerospace Systems have joined forces to capture the US Air Force’s multi-billion programme to recapitalise the aging fleet of E-8C joint surveillance target attack radar system (JSTARS) aircraft.

Northrop has already produced a demonstrator aircraft based on a G550, but has only now confirmed its Gulfstream partnership.

USAF is looking for far smaller radar-carrying aircraft than current Boeing 707-300 type, one with a significantly reduced life-cycle cost and the latest in ground surveillance and battle management systems.

Northrop has a strong competitor in Boeing, which announced last September that it enter the competition with its 737-700 series airliner.

In a June 16 announcement, Gulfstream president Larry Flynn said the company will offer one of its business jets as the basis for “mature, non-developmental, ramp-ready” JSTARS platform.

L-3 brings considerable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft integration experience to the team, having delivered 56 aircraft over the last 30 months “100% on-time or early and within budget,” according to the aerospace division president Mark Von Schwarz.

The air force plans to competitively award contracts to a maximum of three industry teams to mature the programme and prototype their designs prior to a source-selection decision in 2017 for the engineering and manufacturing development phase. The air force says it will award the first tranche of “pre-EMD” contracts in August, which leads into an acquisition decision by the Pentagon in September.

Northorp’s 707-based E-8C entered service in 1991 and 16 remain in operation.

Source: Flight International