The US Air Force has reached an $80 million out-of-court settlement with Northrop Grumman. The move comes after the company was forced to meet $100 million, higher than anticipated, costs to refurbish initial Boeing 707-300s for conversion to Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft.

Under the original JSTARS contract, Northrop Grumman was required to "zero-life" the 707 airframes before modification. Once the airframes were stripped down it was discovered that the former commercial aircraft needed substantially more structural work than originally thought, with much of the work corrosion-related.

Northrop Grumman had planned to build new 707 airframes for the programme and considered moving the Boeing line to its Lake Charles, Louisiana, plant, but this was rejected by the USAF on cost grounds. All but one aircraft - a test vehicle ordered from Boeing - were acquired secondhand.

The settlement, reached through mediation, relates to the first three production JSTARS aircraft. The terms of the contract were modified from aircraft four onward by relaxing the requirement for a zero hour airframe. Each refurbishment is judged individually according to what is needed for the aircraft to be operational and safe.

JSTARS deliveries to date total five, with a sixth aircraft about to be handed over. A further eight aircraft are on order and funding has been approved for a 15th.

Source: Flight International