The US air force will consider both US and international airframers to replace the Northrop Grumman E-8C JSTARS fleet, according to documents released on 5 March. The service also has confirmed its preference for a smaller aircraft than the Boeing 707-based E-8C.

The air force wants a “smaller, more efficient airframe, thereby reducing life cycle costs of the weapon system,” the USAF says. The chosen aircraft must come complete with a JSTARS battle management, command and control (BMC2) system and synthetic aperture radar/moving target indicator (SAR/MTI) capability, the service says.

“The JSTARS Recap Program Office will contract for the delivery of a complete integrated weapon system solution, as opposed to holding separate competitions for individual weapon subsystems for subsequent integration,” the service says. Also required are systems with high technology readiness levels and open architecture.

The move to accept international competitors opens the competition also to international aircraft manufacturers, including Airbus, Dassault and Bombardier, whose Global 6000 and Global 7000 would fit the bill. It also seems to give a leg up to competitors who are betting that a business-size jet will prove a more efficient and affordable replacement than would an airliner for the E-8C, which is based on a Boeing 707.

A previous attempt to replace the E-8C with a Northrop solution based on the Boeing 767-400ER was cancelled due to excessive costs.

The field of competitors already includes Boeing with a 737-based offering, a Gulfstream proposal based on the G650 and a Northrop Grumman offering based on the Gulfstream G550.

Lockheed Martin has teamed with Raytheon and L-3 Communications to compete for the USAF contract, but has not chosen an airframe to base its offering on. The team was waiting for USAF to decide on what size JSTARS it prefers.