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Air Force Taps L3 to Develop Future EC-X Compass Call on Gulfstream 550

After much back-and-forth on which defense company could make the Air Force's next jamming plane, the service -- as predicted -- has decided to let L3 Technologies choose the plane.

"The Air Force awarded a contract to L3 for the Compass Call re-host program," Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said Thursday.

"After their analysis and sharing that with the program office, L3 has decided to use the Gulfstream 550 Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft as the new platform," Stefanek said in a statement. "This new Compass Call platform is being referred to as EC-X," she said.

Stefanek said there is no cost value associated at this time because the contract award is an undefinitized contract action. The UCA is a type of contract in which bottom-line terms or prices have not been agreed upon before performance is begun.

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The EC-X will replace the Air Force's aging fleet of EC-130Hs, modified C-130s made by Lockheed Martin Corp. that carry electronic jamming equipment designed to thwart an adversary's command-and-control communications. Lockheed, however, only makes the airframes while L-3 Communications, now L3 Technologies, is the sole aircraft integration and depot maintenance contractor, while BAE Systems secures the mission equipment.

 

The latest decision follows months of turbulence between defense companies vying to build the next aircraft.

Last month, the Government Accountability Office denied both Boeing Co. and Bombardier's protests against Air Force plans to choose the next Compass Call plane.

In a closed decision posted on Aug. 25, the GAO simultaneously denied the requests; Boeing and Bombardier argued that if the Air Force cedes authority to L3, they will be overlooked because the latter already has a business relationship with business jet-maker Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., which is part of General Dynamics Corp.

Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the service's military deputy for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Acquisition at the Pentagon, has defended the Air Force preference to primarily source the contract to L3, saying the move is cost-effective and timely.

"L3 has ... played that role as the systems integrator as we have modernized these aircraft for the last 15 years," Bunch told lawmakers at a House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces hearing May 25. "They are the ones that are very familiar with the mission equipment that is on there."

Compass Call reached full operating capability in 1983.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to reflect why there is no cost associated with the contract award. 

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