UPDATE 4-Pentagon OKs next step in competition for Air Force spy planes
(Adds comment from companies)
By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON Dec 11 (Reuters) - The Pentagon's chief arms buyer has approved the next step in a long-awaited multibillion-dollar competition to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of E-8 JSTARS spy and battle management planes.
Frank Kendall, undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, this week signed a memorandum approving the start of the so-called Milestone A phase of the program, Pentagon spokeswoman Maureen Schumann said on Friday. That paves the way for funding of demonstrations of the new aircraft, said two sources familiar with the decision.
Three teams are competing for the work: Northrop Grumman Corp, which built the existing planes and is teaming with General Dynamics Corp ; Lockheed Martin Corp, which is working with Raytheon Co and Canada's Bombardier ; and Boeing Co.
Additional details about the memorandum were not immediately available, but a source familiar with the decision said the Pentagon's fiscal 2017 budget request would include funding for the program.
Representative Tom Graves, a Georgia Republican, welcomed the news, calling it a "significant step" toward replacing the aging fleet with next-generation aircraft.
"I am confident that the Defense Department understands JSTARS is a major priority for Congress and will complete the process of updating the JSTARS fleet in a timely manner," Graves said.
Lockheed said it looked forward to helping assess the technical maturity of various subsystems, reducing risks involved with weapon system engineering and working to lower the cost of operating the new aircraft. Continued...