The U.S. Air Force has awarded contracts to three major defense contractors to finish designs on a new fleet of radar surveillance planes.
Northrop Grumman Corp., Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. on Friday won contracts totaling slightly more than $30 million to finish designs for a replacement to the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or JSTARS. An unnamed fourth competitor was left out.
The Air Force plans to select a winner among the three in 2017 to build 17 new aircraft to replace the existing E-8Cs. The four-engine planes based on Boeing's 707 mid-size jet airliner carry under the fuselage a 24-foot-long phased array antenna capable of detecting targets at distances of more than 820,000 feet.
As my colleague Kris Osborn reported in a story at Military.com, service officials are happy with the existing technology, but the planes, which began flying operations in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, are showing their age, so they want new ones, along with new radar and associated equipment.
“The next-generation JSTARS will replace airframes built in the mid to late 60s. They have the highest number of flying hours on them of any plane in the Air Force. They were refurbished in the 80s and 90s, but they are still old airplanes with some of the most modern technology inside,” Col. Henry Cyr, Commander of the 461st Air Control Wing at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, said last year."Northrop's design is based on a General Dynamics Corp. Gulfstream business jet, Lockheed's on a Bombardier Inc. business jet, and Boeing's on its 737 airliner; meanwhile Northrop and Raytheon Co. are vying to provide the radar, according to a report by James Drew, a reporter for Flight Global.