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Pentagon May Award FAB-T Contract in March

The Pentagon is expected to announce by late March the winner of a competition to develop satellite communications devices to ensure the president can talk to commanders after a nuclear attack, a company official said.

Raytheon Co. is challenging Boeing Co. to build the so-called Family of Advanced Beyond-Line-of-Site Terminals, known in military parlance as FAB-T. Outfitted in ground stations and aircraft, the terminals can relay secure communications at higher bandwidth using a network of military satellites.

Air Force Col. Cordell DeLaPena, who manages the program at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. "will have a decision before the end of March," Scott Whatmough, Raytheon's vice president of integrated communications systems, said in a recent telephone interview with reporters.

The Air Force in 2012 invited Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon to compete to build the presidential conference system after becoming concerned that Chicago-based Boeing, which began developing the technology more than a decade ago, would have to further delay the schedule because of design changes.

The program was most recently projected to cost $4.67 billion, a 48-percent increase from the original estimate of $3.17 billion, according to Pentagon acquisition figures from last year. Almost half of that amount has been spent.

That estimate assumes buying a total of 246 devices to upgrade existing command post terminals located on the ground and in E-4B and E-6 aircraft, and to install in B-2 and B-52 bombers and RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft.

Budget reductions have forced Air Force officials to scrap plans, at least temporarily, to outfit the bomber fleets with the terminals, Whatmough said. The upcoming production contract is only expected to cover 84 systems for ground and airborne command posts, he said.

Under such a move, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, has warned, "FAB-T may not meet its full range of planned communications capabilities as some are based on the interaction of bomber aircraft with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft and command terminals."

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