By: Rachel Karas


Following through on the current Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System acquisition strategy is the fastest way to reach initial and final operational capability, the Air Force argued in a recent report to Congress.

Recently departed Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James on Dec. 20 sent congressional defense committees a report detailing the service’s decision to side with a cost-plus-incentive-fee contract instead of firm-fixed-price as lawmakers wanted for engineering and manufacturing development. The service also described its decision not to move to a rapid acquisition program office in a report Congress requested in the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

Northrop Grumman’s JSTARS began flying missions in 1991 and reached IOC in 1997. The Air Force now aims to bolster the aging surveillance fleet of 16 with 17 smaller, more efficient command-and-control aircraft, including three test systems, two aircraft during low-rate initial production and three full-rate production lots of four aircraft.

After months of debate between the Pentagon and Congress on which acquisition strategy to pursue, and language in the FY-17 NDAA that made the Air Force ask for a waiver in order to stay its intended course with a hybrid contract, the service released a final request for proposals for the JSTARS recapitalization program worth $6.9 billion at the end of December.

A milestone B decision is expected by the fourth quarter of FY-17, followed by an EMD contract award in 2018. The Air Force hopes to achieve IOC before FY-24. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman plan to bid on the recapitalization project.

The schedule proposed by the winner of the EMD contract will become the recapitalization effort’s new baseline, and the service expects an incentive fee structure and schedule control plan that penalizes the contractor by paying less for missed milestones will keep the program on track.

A milestone C decision could also come sooner under a cost-plus contract rather than fixed-price, the report stated. The Air Force pegged the JSTARS EMD contract at a mix of 53 percent fixed-price efforts to 47 percent for cost work, though the final ratio will be decided in the contract award.

Several factors spurred the service to choose a cost-plus-incentive-fee structure: the complexity of battle management command and control subsystem integration; the difficulty of civil and Defense Department certification and accreditation; software development across subsystems; combined contractor test and developmental test programs; and requirements that depend on the chosen vendor’s plan.

Source-selection criteria for the EMD RFP also incentivizes contractors to come up with creative solutions to speed operational capability, the Air Force stated, adding proposals will be valued for realistic, achievable schedules that deliver IOC before FY-24.

The Air Force report notes the milestone decision authority updated the requirement for a size, weight, power and cooling margin in a March 23, 2016 radar risk reduction acquisition decision memo. Now, contractors need to maintain a margin of 20 percent for milestone B and 10 percent for milestone C. All three pre-EMD prime contractors offered viable designs exceeding 10 percent with a sufficient margin, the report stated.

Without radar risk reduction — a $76 million effort for Raytheon and Northrop Grumman to tailor radar to a modern JSTARS platform — “development work needed to mature the radar will be delayed until EMD contract award, resulting in a less informed milestone B decision and risks in delaying IOC,” the Air Force stated.

The Air Force also told lawmakers that moving the recapitalization effort to a rapid acquisition program office would require extensive time and effort, causing a delay in IOC with growing execution risks. Changing program oversight from the program executive officer for battle management to a rapid acquisition group would force the service to revise and re-coordinate its acquisition strategy, RFP, EMD contract and source-selection plan, the report stated. A new source-selection team — without first-hand knowledge of the work already done — would have to be chosen and trained, and industry would have to tweak its proposals, the Air Force argued.

A separate Air Force report delivered to Congress within 90 days after the EMD contract is awarded will include milestone acceleration options and funding needed for shifting IOC and FOC time lines, as well as the latest update on the E-8C’s service life.

The same report noted Boeing’s review of how well the legacy JSTARS fuselage holds up to longtime wear and tear revealed no pressing issues. The company started its widespread fatigue damage analysis on seven sections of the Boeing 707-based fuselage, described as one of the “primary service life-limiting structures on the E-8C,” in February 2016.

“As sections are completed, Boeing provides incremental reports to the Air Force airworthiness office for government analysis and validation,” the report stated. “Boeing delivered analysis on three of the seven sections. Preliminary review of the results by the AFAO revealed no critical service life concerns. If Boeing identifies any serious flight safety risks, they will immediately notify the government to take appropriate actions.”

That study is expected to end in March, after which the Air Force will assess the remaining four findings. The JSTARS program office will use the study information to decide if any new requirements are needed to extend the aircraft’s service life