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The Air Force has awarded Northrop Grumman an $81 million follow-on contract to begin design and test work for upgrades to its air and space operations centers, the company announced Dec. 3. Northrop Grumman won the overall contract to modernize the Air Force's command and control system in 2012.  The Defense Department approved the overall acquisition plan in October, giving the go-ahead for the latest engineering and manufacturing development phase contract, according to the company. Over the next year, the company plans to refine the system's design through a continuing series of operational trials to glean feedback from users, in addition to a critical design review. The new AOC architecture aims to reduce cost by cutting down on physical hardware, and simplifying system interface, according to the company.  The base $102 million eight-year modernization contract could be worth up to $504 million if all options are exercised.