Army terminates spy plane/network contract

The Army announced yesterday that it terminated a contract with Lockheed Martin to build a computer network and airframe for a spy plane for the Army and Navy, marking the second time in the past year that the service has confronted a contractor about a troubled program.

“After carefully evaluating Lockheed’s proposals, we decided that the prudent course of action at this time was to terminate the contract and bring the various players — industry, the acquisition and user communities, the Navy and Air Force — back to the drawing board to make sure we all have a firm understanding of what the requirements are and the various challenges we need to overcome to make this program succeed,” said Claude Bolton, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, in an Army statement.

Lockheed Martin beat General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman in 2004 for a five-and-a-half-year, $879 million contract to develop, test and build the Aerial Common Sensor (ACS). But soon after the contract award, the Army and Lockheed Martin learned that the proposed airframe, the Embraer 145 commercial jet, was too small to house the intelligence sensors and systems, computer network and people necessary to operate them and fly the aircraft.

The Army issued a stop-work order to Lockheed Martin in September 2005 and gave the company 60 days to propose options to resolve program issues. The Army and Navy considered using the Embraer 145 at a lesser capability and swapping the aircraft for a larger one, but they decided not to pursue those ideas, said Tim Rider, an Army spokesman, in an e-mail to the media.

Bolton said the Army is not terminating ACS. He said the service remains committed to building and fielding the next-generation, reconnaissance aircraft.

ACS will replace the Army’s Guardrail Common Sensor and Airborne Reconnaissance Low and the Navy’s EP-3E Aries II aircraft. The aircraft’s network-centric communications architecture will combine intelligence data from ground, air and space systems to detect enemy radar, communications and troop movements.

This is the second stop-work order on a major joint military program that the Army has issued in the past year. The service took steps to terminate its Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Cluster 1 contract with Boeing in May 2005 after the company encountered heat and weight issues with the radio planned for land vehicles and rotary aircraft.

The Defense Department established the JTRS Joint Program Executive Office last year to oversee the radio’s four programs, and the Navy is in charge of the office. DOD will issue a plan soon on JTRS program and acquisition changes.

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