WASHINGTON — After months of being mired in legal disputes, the U.S. Air Force’s Compass Call crossdeck program is speeding ahead.
Following an August decision by the Government Accountability Office to deny protests from Bombardier and Boeing, the service awarded L3 Technologies the systems integrator contract for the program, which is now known as EC-X, confirmed U.S. Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek.
“The Air Force awarded an undefinitized contract action to L-3 for the Compass Call rehost program,” she said. An undefinitized contract action is used to advance money to a company so that it can continue work on a project even if the exact terms of a contract have not been set in stone.
To modernize its inventory of EC-130H Compass Call aircraft, the U.S. Air Force has chosen a crossdeck plan in which a systems integrator will transfer mission systems on the existing EC-130Hs to a new airframe. One of the most controversial aspects of the acquisition strategy allows the systems integrator — in this case L3 — to chose the airframe, an element that Boeing and Bombardier argued should be left to the government.
L3 has already informed the U.S. Air Force of its plans to choose Gulfstream’s G550 business jet to rehost the Compass Call electronics, Stefanek said.
“After their analysis and sharing that with the program office, L-3 has decided to use the Gulfstream G550 Airborne Early Warning aircraft as the new platform,” she said.
That outcome was what Boeing and Bombardier feared, spurring individual protests that the GAO collectively dismissed on Aug. 25.
As part of its protests, Boeing argued that choosing L3 as systems integrator would give Gulfstream — a partner of L3 on the JSTARS recap program — a leg up on the competition. However, the GAO dismissed the protest because the selection of Boeing as systems integrator could have prompted an even bigger conflict of interest, as Boeing could have selected one of its own airframes.
The agency also denied the companies’ claims that the U.S. Air Force was pursuing an illegal “lead systems integrator” contract with L3. Boeing and Bombardier cited letters from U.S. Air Force officials to Congress using the term “lead systems integrator” as a descriptor of L3’s role in the program, but Air Force officials argued that use of the term was “colloquial” and GAO found that L3’s role did not meet the definition of an LSI.
In addition, GAO curbed assertions from Bombardier and Boeing that sole-sourcing the contract would be unlawful, stating that the U.S. Air Force had the right to conduct a noncompetitive procurement because of national security requirements.
Throughout the past year, U.S. Air Force officials maintained that sole-sourcing to L3 would be the least expensive and quickest way to get an EC-X capability to the fleet.
“L3 has played that role as the systems integrator as we have modernized these aircraft for the last 15 years. They are the ones that are very familiar with the mission equipment that is on there,” Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force’s top uniformed acquisition officer, said May 25.
“That mission equipment is highly classified to be able to execute the electronic warfare mission that we ask that platform to do. They have all the tooling; they have all the existing knowledge; and they have the modeling and all the information to do that work.”
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.