Lockheed Marin [LMT] chose Raytheon [RTN] to develop and deliver the next generation Distributed Aperture System (DAS) for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, replacing the sensor’s incumbent Northrop Grumman [NOC].

Lockheed Martin highlighted this change in provider will reduce cost while adding capabilities.

Hill Air Force Base F-35As fly in formation over the Utah Test and Training Range, March 30, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)
Hill Air Force Base F-35As fly in formation over the Utah Test and Training Range, March 30, 2017. (U.S. Air Force photo/R. Nial Bradshaw)

“The supply chain competition for the next generation F-35 Distributed Aperture System resulted in significant cost savings, reliability and performance improvements,” Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 vice president and general manager, said in a statement.

Northrop Grumman currently supplies the AN/AAQ-37 DAS, which consists of six electro-optical sensors to provide the pilot with 360-degree situational awareness for missile and aircraft threat warnings, launch point detection, targeting, and day/night navigation.

Notably, the DAS sensors sends high resolution real-time images to the pilot’s helmet, allowing the pilot to see through the bottom of the aircraft to the ground below.

A Lockheed Martin spokesperson noted Northrop Grumman has delivered the DAS for all F-35 built thus far and will continue through Lot 14 aircraft. Raytheon’s DAS will then be integrated first into Lot 15 F-35s, with deliveries expected to start in 2023.

Two months ago, Northrop Grumman signaled it was dropping form the competition. In an April earnings call, Wes Bush, Northrop Grumman’s chairman and CEO, and Kathy Warden, president and chief operating officer, said the company was dropping from the DAS competition calling it relatively unattractive compared to other potential business opportunities (Defense Daily, April 25).

Lockheed Martin underscored the cost and efficiency benefits in the newer DAS: over $3 billion in life cycle cost savings, about 45 percent reduction in unit recurring costs, over 50 percent reduction in operations and sustainment costs, five times more reliability, and twice the performance capability.

The decision comes in a climate where both Congress and DoD officials want to cut F-35’s high sustainment costs. On Tuesday, the Senate approved an amendment to its version of the  FY ’19 defense authorization bill that would require the Defense Department to brief the congressional defense committees quarterly on department efforts to contain F-35 sustainment costs (Defense Daily, June 12). In March, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said the sustainment costs “are a major concern right now” and have to decrease to be affordable (Defense Daily, March 29).

Back in January DoD’s top weapons tester, Rober Behler, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E), warned that the F-35’s reliability growth was stagnating and still had problems overcoming readiness problems (Defense Daily, Jan. 25).

“We are aggressively pursuing cost reduction across the F-35 enterprise and this initiative is a clear demonstration of our unrelenting commitment to reduce costs and deliver transformational capabilities for the warfighter,” Ulmer added.

The Lockheed spokesperson said Northrop Grumman is still a “critical F-35 industry partner” and principal member of the industry team, as it provides the F-35’s center fuselage; Actively Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar; and communications, navigation, and identification (CNI) avionics suite.