The US Army has radically changed the acquisition strategy for its Aerial Common Sensor (ACS) contract, tilting the competition in favour of Boeing's preferred approach.

A pre-solicitation document posted on 4 February reveals that the army has scrapped its previous winner-take-all approach for the multi-billion dollar development contract, and instead plans to select two bidders for a technology development phase. Both companies will continue competing for the right to develop and produce the new airborne signals intelligence fleet through at least a preliminary design review.

Other potential bidders for the requirement include Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and a team comprising Northrop Grumman/L-3 Communications.

Last October, a Boeing executive publicly lobbied army officials to abandon the winner-takes-all award in favour of prolonged competition. Officials from Northrop, which had been widely viewed as the favoured bidder, opposed the change.

A further tweak to the previous strategy also appears to align with other changes requested by Boeing.

The army originally planned to pre-select several key subsystems, including Northrop's Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload low-band receiver as "directed" elements of the ACS system. Instead, Boeing asked for the freedom to select its own subsystems, which appears to have been honoured in the army's new strategy.

"Contractor responsibilities will include selection of an airborne platform and a number of subsystems within government-defined criteria [and] integration of these subsystems into the ACS baseline," the army document says.

The army is reviving the ACS competition three years after terminating a contract awarded to a Lockheed/Embraer team in 2004. The programme was halted after it became clear that the sensor payload exceeded the limits of the ERJ-145 regional jet.

Bidding teams are now considering proposals based on the Bombardier Global Express XRS and Gulfstream G550 business jets.

Source: Flight International