Graham Warwick/WASHINGTON DC Peter La Franchi/CANBERRA

Boeing has been unable to give the required guarantee of technology releasability in its bid to supply Australia with airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.

Boeing and Northrop Grumman, supplier of the MESA phased-array radar to be carried by the 737-based AEW&C, deny reports that the USA has blocked release of the radar technology, saying negotiations are under way.

The contenders for the AEW&C contract submitted bids in late February. A decision is expected in June. Raytheon is offering the Israeli Phalcon system on an Airbus A310 and Lockheed Martin is offering a variant of the Northrop Grumman AN/APS-145 radar aboard a C-130J. Australia is demanding 100% releasability of the system software.

"Release of the radar technology has not been blocked," says Dr James Roche, president of Northrop Grumman's electronic sensors and systems sector. "The defence department is still working on what can and can't be released."

Boeing officials in Canberra confirm that the company is awaiting US state department approval for release of the MESA radar to Australia. "I wouldn't say that there are no problems," says one official. "What I will say is that we are in some negotiations on various elements of our entire solution. It is not just the MESA radar."

One issue is believed to be Australian demands for access to the 737 AEW&C system software, which is based substantially on that of the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), developed originally by Boeing for the USAir Force. This is also an issue for Turkey, which is considering the 737 AEW&C and 767-based AWACS. Turkey is believed to have been offered only limited access to the AEW&C software and none to the AWACS.

In Australia's case, Roche says one reason for the delay is a new approval process at the US Department of Defense that requires the export of technologies like the MESA radar to be reviewed by a "low observability/counter low observability executive committee".

Industry sources say the time required to process export licences has increased since last year, after Congress found two US communications satellite manufacturers guilty of illegally transferring technology to China.

Canberra is expected to highlight the issue of releasability at the inaugural meeting this month of the Australia-US Defence Ministers' Acquisition Council.

The council was set up last year to promote increased commonality between the two countries in equipment acquisition, the fielding of new technologies and logistics support.

Source: Flight International