Iowa-based Data Link Solutions LLC (DLS)–a joint venture between Collins Aerospace [RTX] and BAE Systems–is to repair components of the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System’s (JTIDS) AN/URC-107 Radio Frequency Amplifier for the Boeing [BA] E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft and foreign military sales platforms through September 2026 under a nearly $10 million contract awarded by the Air Force Sustainment Center at Robins AFB, Ga., on Sept. 30.

While a relatively small contract, the sole source award illustrates the pitfalls that can come with such awards. According to a justification and approval (J&A) document prepared by the Air Force in 2017 and updated with the recent contract award to DLS, the Air Force has tried to foster competition on JTIDS repair, but to no avail.

“The government owns some drawings but those drawings are incomplete and there are no testing or repair data in the Technical Data Package (TDP) to facilitate a competitive environment,” per the J&A. “The most recent inquiry to DLS on selling the full TDP to the Government was in Feb. 2017. DLS responded they are unwilling to sell the data.”

The J&A said that “reverse engineering the JTIDS is considered not economically feasible as it would take an estimated three to five years to accomplish, cost between $78 million to $130 million depending upon the number of engineers assigned and quality of the data to produce a first article.”

JTIDS is a 1970s system that is to provide a long-range, line-of-sight, secure, jam-resistant Link 16 network to identify and share the location of friendly and enemy forces for Air Force, Navy, and allied platforms. The AWACS  and allied platforms are moving away from JTIDS to the Multifunction Information Distribution System (MIDS) for improved situational awareness.

U.S. support of JTIDS, specifically components for the JTIDS Class II terminals, is to end in 2028.

“The government does not have the necessary data to provide for full and open competition,” per the J&A. “An attempt was made by the government in February 2017 to procure a complete technical data package, but the vendor [DLS] declined to sell the data.”

DLS said on Nov. 2 that it was unable to comment by press time on Nov. 2. Any response will be added to this article.

“With current JTIDS users migrating from JTIDS to MIDS, the return on investment (ROI) to reverse engineer would not materialize during the life of the program,” the J&A said. “A previous reverse engineering effort attempted in 2004 by a third party contractor failed due to the technical complexity of the system, lack of sufficient product data, and insufficient funding. The total cost of the failed effort was $750,000. The Government owns very limited technical data. This technical data was procured when JTIDS became a program of record in the early 90s. The OEM (DLS) signed a non-disclosure agreement with a third party company for the sole purpose of developing JTIDS TPSs for organic/depot repair. Any potential vendor wanting to reverse engineer JTIDS would have to reengineer JTIDS LRUs/SRUs to include manufacturing of new TPSs (third party services) to facilitate repair.”

The J&A estimated that it would cost between $214.5 million and $288.5 million to establish a competitive environment for JTIDS–the development of TPSs and reverse engineering costs.

“To date, JTIDS has spent an estimated $138.5 million (FY 00 dollars) on TPSs alone,” the J&A said. “Another new vendor would require testers and TPSs custom built for the tester. TPS development for the current JTIDS has taken over 12 years to reach our current level of depot repair capability. This total does not include technical orders, software, and other test equipment…To achieve competition, the government would need to spend an additional $138.5 million (estimated) to purchase TPSs to establish repair capability with another vendor. Since the government invested in TPS development for government unique testers and the end of life of JTIDS use is estimated to be in FY2028, the Government would not recover the investment costs through competition.”

“A reverse engineering effort and TPS development for a new JTIDS is estimated to cost $214.5 million to $288.5 million and take 12 years to complete,” per J&A. “The end of life of JTIDS is estimated to be in FY2028. The government would not have sufficient time to recover the investment costs through competition before the program end date, therefore pursuing such an action is not feasible.”

The Department of the Air Force is considering a buy of the Boeing E-7 Wedgetail to replace the E-3, and, in the longer term, the department may conduct air moving target indication (AMTI) from space, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown has said (Defense Daily, Sept. 21).