With roles on two of three industry teams competing and discussions with the third, radar manufacturer Raytheon is well positioned to participate in the U.S. Air Force’s Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JStars) recapitalization program, a top acquisition priority. Raytheon’s “Skynet” radar proposed for the JStars main sensor is based on a previously classified system the Navy is flying on the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.
Raytheon is a subcontractor on separate teams Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin have assembled to compete for the program to replace the Air Force’s Boeing 707-based E-8C JStars platform. It has also held discussions with Boeing, the third JStars aspirant awarded a pre-engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contract from the service in August. The intent of those year-long contracts is to advance the proposals to the preliminary design review stage. The Air Force will then issue a request for proposals for a full EMD contract award to one team, expected in 2017.
“We offered our sensor solution to Boeing, and while they chose not to engage with us contractually in this [pre-EMD] phase, the conversation is still open” said Raytheon vice president of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance Jerry Powlen, during an interview in mid-September at the Air Force Association Air & Space conference.
The Air Force has ranked JStars recapitalization just behind its top three acquisition priorities: the F-35A fighter, the KC-46A aerial refueling tanker and the Long Range Strike-Bomber. The program’s advancement following the pre-EMD contract awards in August was slowed, however, when the Pentagon’s Defense Acquisition Board, meeting on September 18, withheld approving a “Milestone A” decision to begin the technology maturation phase. “Although a Milestone A decision was not approved at that time, there was a good discussion,” the Air Force said in a statement. “We have some action items to accomplish so everyone more clearly understands the program risks and the technical details.”
The “sensor derivative baseline” for the JStars ground surveillance radar that Raytheon proposes is the Navy’s Advanced Aerial Sensor (AAS). Details of that electronically scanned array radar, under development by Raytheon since 2007, remain classified. However, in June the Naval Air Systems Command announced that an AAS-configured P-8A Poseidon, which is based on the Boeing 737-800 airliner, had completed its first flight on May 20. Designated APS-154, the radar will replace the APS-149 littoral surveillance radar system fitted on specially modified P-3C Orions.
“We have been in development for the past eight years, and we are currently in flight test,” Powlen said. “We’re going through the final prove-out of the system and software, which will go on for the next year or so.”
Last year, the Navy awarded Raytheon a low-rate initial production contract for the AAS, which should enter production around the same time the Air Force plans to acquire the 17 radars it needs for JStars, Powlen said. “The nice thing about AAS is it is the next-generation wide area surveillance radar. Nothing is out there today that can meet its capability,” he said. “The Air Force is coming along at a perfect time where they can capitalize on a very large Department of Defense investment. All they really have to pay for is the integration on their own unique plane, and integration into the BMC2 [battle management command and control system]. It’s one of those rare cases where the stars align and the DOD can benefit from interservice cooperation.”
Rather than siding with one industry team, Raytheon has made the radar available to all comers. On the Northrop Grumman team proposing the Gulfstream G550 business jet as a host platform, Raytheon would provide just the radar sensor “and a little BMC2 software” to control it, Powlen said. With the Lockheed Martin team advancing a solution based on the Bombardier Global business jet, it would have a broader role, providing the radar and supporting the JStars battle management and communications systems. Boeing’s proposal is based on the 737, the same platform as the Poseidon. Raytheon or another radar provider might also deal directly with the Air Force, which in August issued a request for information directly to subsystem suppliers.
Powlen believes Raytheon’s radar is the wise choice. “Who’s ready to go to the factory today? If you take a look at that, we believe our sensor by far leads anybody else in the industry in the maturity of that capability, given the hundreds of millions of dollars that the Navy just spent developing this over the last seven years,” he said. “We’ve alleviated all of the development costs. If we can go though co-production and have this radar produced on the same manufacturing lines, inherently it’s going to be cheaper.”