Teams led by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman have made bids for the $1 billion Aerial Common Sensor (ACS) project to replace US Army and Navy electronic and signals intelligence (ELINT and SIGINT) aircraft. Award of a 66-month development contract is due in April.

Lockheed Martin's ACS platform is based on the Embraer ERJ-145 regional jet, while Northrop Grumman has selected the Gulfstream G450 business jet. The US Army has a requirement for 38 aircraft to enter service from 2009, with the first of 19 aircraft for the US Navy expected to follow two years later.

The ACS will carry ELINT and SIGINT sensors as well as a synthetic-aperture radar, with onboard processing, six operator consoles and a satellite communications link. The aircraft will replace the US Army's RC-7 Airborne Reconnaissance Low and RC-12 Guardrail platforms and US Navy EP-3E Aries intelligence-gathering aircraft.

Dismissing criticism for its choice of a non-US aircraft, Lockheed Martin says it narrowed the choice to a regional jet, evaluating the Canadian Bombardier CRJ700 as well as the ERJ-145, because of their high-cycle operating economics. Northrop Grumman says it invited bids from Bombardier and Embraer before selecting the G450.

Last month Jacksonville Airport in Florida agreed to build and lease a facility to Embraer where the manufacturer will assemble ERJ-145 family aircraft for US government customers, including ACS. Jacksonville will spend $6.5 million on the facility, $1.5 million on airport infrastructure and provide $1.7 million for training.

The Lockheed Martin team includes Argon Engineering, General Dynamics, Harris and Raytheon with L-3 Communications responsible for outfitting the aircraft. Northrop Grumman's team also includes L-3 as the datalink supplier.

Source: Flight International