In the next several years, the U.S. Navy wants to field Next-Generation Jammer-Low Band (NGJ-LB) and Mid Band (NGJ-MB) pods for the service’s EA-18G Growler aircraft by Boeing [BA], but litigation is ongoing between Northrop Grumman [NOC] and the Navy over the low band $544 million contract award to L3Harris [LHX] in December 2020.

At the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference this week in National Harbor, Md., Rear Adm. Shane Gahagan, the Navy’s program executive officer for tactical aircraft programs, said that the “most critical” development programs in his portfolio are the jamming pods, while Navy Capt. Jason Denney, the program manager for the F/A-18 and EA-18G, suggested that the Chinese threat and Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine portend the need for advanced technologies, such as the jamming pods, to allow U.S. forces freedom of movement.

“I think world events specifically in the last month raised everybody’s awareness levels and the fact that there are some folks out there that wish us and our allies harm,” Denney said. “So the impetus to change the game, to change the way that we deliver acquisition products to the fleet is of the utmost importance.”

The Navy is replacing the Vietnam War era ALQ-99 jamming pods, first fielded in 1971 and used by EA-18G Growlers to counter enemy air defenses and communications systems. The Navy split the NGJ program into low, mid- and high-band frequency contract systems. The high-band program is to follow the low- and mid-band buys.

Since 2013, the NGJ program has seen protests. In that year, BAE Systems protested the July 2013 technology development mid-band award to Raytheon Technologies [RTX]. In November, 2013 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) sustained BAE’s protest, but the Navy decided to move forward with Raytheon on the mid-band development in January 2014.

In 2016, Raytheon won a $1 billion contract for the design, manufacture, demonstration, and testing of NGJ-MB (Defense Daily, Apr. 15, 2016).

In October 2018, the Navy awarded NGJ-LB contracts to Northrop Grumman and L-3 Technologies, which became a part of L3Harris in a July, 2019 merger.

After the NGJ-LB downselect award to L3Harris in December 2020, Northrop Grumman filed bid protests with the GAO on Feb. 1, 2021, alleging various conflicts of interest, which would prevent an award to L3Harris.

After the Navy said that “it was taking corrective action to investigate the conflict of interest allegations, we dismissed Northrop’s protests as academic,” GAO said.

The Navy re-examined the contract,  and on April 29 last year completed its investigation and said that “there was no appearance of impropriety and L3Harris did not obtain an unfair competitive advantage,” GAO said. The Navy then re-affirmed its December, 2020 award to L3Harris.

Northrop Grumman then lodged other protests in which the company alleged conflicts of interest and said that the Navy unreasonably evaluated L3Harris’ low-band proposal, as the latter did not demonstrate compliance with the Navy solicitation requirements for low-band jamming.

In response to those protests, the GAO on Aug. 18 last year issued decisions in which GAO found that a Navy employee who was negotiating employment with L3Harris helped write the NGJ-LB Capability Block-1 specifications and had created the appearance of a conflict of interest.

GAO also found that the Navy’s proposal evaluation was unreasonable and recommended that the Navy request revised proposals and make a new source selection decision or revise specifications, issue an amendment to the solicitation, request revised proposals, and make a new source selection decision.

Ironically, last Aug. 18’s GAO decisions in favor of Northrop Grumman on NGJ-LB allow the Navy to continue its low band work with L3Harris without having to invoke a Competition in Contracting Act of 1984 (CICA) provision that permits procurement agencies to override an automatic work halt while a bid protest is ongoing, 31 USC 3553 (c), (d)).

As happened after GAO’s mid-band protest decision in 2013, the Navy has decided to decided to stick with its chosen contractor, L3Harris, on NGJ-LB.

As a result, Northrop Grumman has turned to the federal courts. On Dec. 21 last year, Northrop Grumman filed a complaint with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The litigation requests that the court issue a permanent injunction to stop the Navy from executing the NGJ-LB program with L3Harris and to bar L3Harris from bidding on any NGJ-LB recompete. Northrop Grumman also wants the court to declare that the “Navy’s failure to fully implement the GAO’s recommended corrective action [on NGJ-LB] was irrational, improperly documented, and contrary to law.”