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​​An E-8C JSTARS aircraft takes off from Robins AFB, Ga. The Pentagon released contracts to multiple aerospace firms on Aug. 7 for pre-engineering and manufacturing development work for the JSTARS Recap program, one of USAF’s leading modernization priorities. Air Force Photo by SrA. Andrew Lee.​

​Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop are the finalists in the hunt to replace the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS), the Air Force announced Aug. 7. Boeing received a $9.95-million contract; while Lockheed Martin received $11.5 million and Northrop Grumman received a $10-million award, all identically worded. They will pursue "pre-engineering, and manufacturing development efforts" on the recapitalization project, during which they will assess technology maturity, "reduce weapon system integration risk, and lower life cycle cost by virtue of design." USAF said it received four offers, of which it picked three. An Air Force official said the contractors will conduct a full system review, a preliminary design review, and build subsystem prototype demonstrators. The contracts should be followed in early September by a "Milestone A" review by Pentagon acquisition, technology and logistics chief Frank Kendall. In mid-July, USAF acquisition chief William LaPlante said there could be a contract award in three years. The Air Force wants initial operating capability of the selected system in 2023. In a recent interview with Air Force Magazine, LaPlante said the program remains in a budgetary "gray area" and may or may not be affordable in the long run, depending on whether sequestration returns. USAF plans to pay for the program by reducing the existing E-8C JSTARS fleet and using the operating savings to finance the replacement.