The Air Force's hunt for a new electronic warfare aircraft is "off and running" now that a budget has been approved for the rest of fiscal 2017, Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the Air Force's acquisition chief, said Monday.
The Air Force is planning to acquire 10 new aircraft by 2029 to replace its aging fleet of 15 EC-130H Compass Calls, some of which date back more than five decades. The suite of sophisticated and secretive communication-jamming equipment that now resides in the Compass Call will be transplanted into the new airframes, dubbed EC-X.
Before Congress reached a deal last month to fund the government for the rest of the year, service officials were worried that a full-year continuing resolution would delay the fielding of the first EC-X by at least 12 months. This would have forced the Air Force to continue repairing old planes longer than expected, which would have cost the government an extra $300 million.
In a briefing with reporters at the Pentagon Monday, Bunch said the Air Force chose L3 to be the system administrator, due to the company's decade-plus experience with the Compass Call.
"They are very familiar with the modernized mission equipment that we have," Bunch said. "They're also very well-skilled in knowing what it would take to cross-deck that into another platform."
Bunch said security is also a major concern, since the Compass Call's activities and equipment are extremely sensitive, which was another factor leading the Air Force to stick with L3.
The next step, Bunch said, will be for L3 to collect information about which commercially available platforms could be used as the new Compass Call. L3 will then submit a report on its findings to the Air Force, he said, "to make sure that we understand what they are doing."