The U.S. Air Force has picked Northrop Grumman [NOC] to provide the radar for a potential replacement of the aging E-8C JSTARS ground-surveillance aircraft, but losing bidder Raytheon [RTN] has formally challenged the decision, claiming the evaluation process was flawed, according to analysts at investment bank Jefferies LLC.

While the Air Force has not publicly announced its selection of Northrop Grumman, Raytheon filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Nov. 20, indicating that Northrop Grumman won the radar competition, the analysts wrote in a Nov. 28 “industry note.” Both companies received risk-reduction contracts for the radar last year, and those contracts ran out Sept. 30.

The E-8C JSTARS. (Air Force photo)
The E-8C JSTARS. (Air Force photo)

The GAO said it has until Feb. 28 to weigh in on the protest. The Air Force, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon all declined to comment.

Whether the new radar will become a reality is unclear. While the Air Force has been preparing to replace JSTARS with a modified civil jet, it revealed in September that it had begun exploring whether a different approach might be more effective in highly contested environments (Defense Daily, Sept. 12).

For now, the Air Force is proceeding with a source selection for a JSTARS replacement. Three firms are contending to provide the airframe: Northrop Grumman has proposed the General Dynamics [GD] Gulfstream G550 business jet, Boeing [BA] has offered a 737 jetliner and Lockheed Martin [LMT] has put forth a Bombardier Global 6000 business jet.