Sierra Nevada Corporation has been revealed as the fourth contender for the US Air Force’s Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) Recapitalization programme, confirming to Flightglobal that it partnered with Intuitive Research and Technology Corporation to offer a replacement for the radar-carrying E-8C.

The USAF awarded contracts to Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin for a risk-reduction programme leading into the main competition and downselect in 2017, but the service’s 7 August contract notice noted that four offers were received.

Unlike its rivals, who revealed their competing designs and teaming arrangements prior to the announcement, SNC kept quiet and still remains tight-lipped even after being sidelined, perhaps because losing the risk-reduction contract does not prevent the company from competing for the full development contract later.

In an email, a spokeswoman for Sierra Nevada confirmed that Intuitive of Huntsville, Alabama, submitted the bid as the prime contractor, but did not provide any more details, referring all questions to Intuitive.

Intuitive specialises in programme support, technical analysis and aerospace engineering. It did not have any immediate comment on the matter when contacted by Flightglobal.

The JSTARS programme aims to replace the air force’s aging fleet of Northrop Grumman E-8Cs – based on second-hand Boeing 707-300s – with modern, radar-carrying business jets that are cheaper and easier to maintain and operate. With its side-looking passive electronically scanned array antenna, today’s E-8C provides wide-area surveillance, target indication and battle management support to ground forces.

Sierra Nevada is a privately-held firm that has a reputation of secrecy, owing much to its classified work with the DOD and many programmes with the special forces community. It declined to say which aircraft it would offer, but one option would be an Embraer business jet, since the two are partnered on other programmes, such as the A-29 Super Tucano for the Afghan Air Force.

Perhaps the company was even thinking offering the Dornier 328Jet regional airliner. The company owns the type certificate, and recently announced plans to restart production of the type.

328JET 640 c AirTeamImages

An example of the Dornier 328Jet regional airliner.


For the radar, the company might have considered Raytheon’s “Skynet” radar, which has been offered to each of the competitors. The alternative supplier would be Northrop Grumman.

Lockheed is teamed with Raytheon and Bombardier for the programme, offering a Global Express-based JSTARS system. Northrop is partnered with General Dynamics Gulfstream and L-3 Aerospace Systems, and is likely to offer the G550 as its platform. Boeing is not exclusively teamed and will offer the 737-700BBJ1 commercial business jet. Each team has received about $10 million to mature their competing designs.