The Air Force is hoping to get approval in January or February to proceed with the next phase of replacing the E-8C JSTARS ground-surveillance airplane, said Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, the service's top uniformed weapons buyer. "We expect to reach a milestone decision with [Pentagon acquisition executive Frank] Kendall in early ’15," she told defense reporters during a meeting in the nation's capital on Nov. 19. This approval would allow the Air Force to work more closely with potential suppliers on the project, she said. The Air Force has completed an analysis of alternatives and has been refining it for eight months, said Pawlikowski, looking for "the knee in the curve" on various system elements' optimum performance for cost. With Kendall's go-ahead, the Air Force can start talking turkey with Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and other potential suppliers about the "art of the possible," she said. However, the Air Force won't necessarily buy the airplane, sensor, and battle management systems from different suppliers, she noted. "We see the biggest risk on the program is the integration of all three of those pieces together," said Pawlikowski, so a single prime contractor might be the way to go. She expects "some sort" of request for proposals in 2015. The Air Force wants the first airplane available for duty in 2022. (See also The Leaner, More Effective JSTARS.)
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