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​An EC-130H Compass Call prepares to take off to execute the first training mission with an upgraded cockpit acquired via the avionic viability program at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., July 11, 2016. Since it became operational in 1983, the EC-130H Compass Call has demonstrated its electronic combat power in tactical air operations around the world. Courtesy photo.

—Amy McCullough

The Air Force’s senior uniformed acquisition official on Thursday defended the service’s decision to name L3 Technologies the systems integrator on the Compass Call recapitalization effort. His comments come just days after Boeing launched a protest questioning that approach.

The designation allows L3 to choose what aircraft will replace the EC-130 intelligence aircraft, but Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch told members of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces panel the effort is mostly “nondevelopmental,” saying many of the systems that have been upgraded over the years “will be simply cross-decked over” to the new platform.

“L3 has played the role of systems integrator as we’ve modernized these aircraft over the last 15 years. They are the ones that are very familiar with the mission equipment that’s on there. That mission equipment is highly classified to be able to execute the electronic warfare mission we ask that platform to do,” said Bunch, who is the military deputy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. “They have all the tooling, they have all the existing knowledge, and they have all the modeling and all the information they need to do that work.”

An Air Force spokeswoman told Air Force Magazine it's “essential that a single entity select, based on market research, the aircraft subsystem and perform the mission equipment integration effort; L-3 is the only source capable of performing this critical function.”

But Boeing disagrees. The company filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office on May 19. The GAO has 100 days, or until Aug. 28, to render its decision.

Boeing spokeswoman Caroline Hutchinson said the company is “protesting the apparent sole-source award” to L3 because the approach “is inconsistent with Congress’ direction in the 2017 NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act], and seems to ignore inherent and obvious conflicts of interest. We believe that the US Air Force and taxpayer would be best served by a fair and open competition, and that the Air Force can still meet its stated timeline of replacing the aging fleet of EC-130Hs within 10 years.”

Specifically, the Air Force wants to procure one Compass Call a year, beginning in Fiscal 2017, for the next 10 years.

Boeing officials have expressed concerned that Gulfstream will receive an unfair advantage because of its relationship with L3, which modifies Gulfstream’s G550s for foreign air forces. The Air Force has previously expressed interest in the business jet as a replacement for the Compass Call, reported Defense One. But Grabowski said the Air Force “has not/will not direct L-3 to procure a particular aircraft subsystem.”

An L3 spokeswoman said the company cannot comment on an active protest, but in an April 27 first quarter conference call with investors L3 CEO Michael Strianese emphasized that no decision has been made on the follow-on aircraft, noting “it could be a 737. It could be one of multiple business jets.”

However, Strianese said he was “encouraged by the direction of this procurement because that is critically important for L3” because “it gives us a very nice place on the recapitalization of some of these ISR platforms, many of them are due to be recapitalized over the next several years.”

Bunch assured the panel the decision to make L3 the systems integrator does not mean USAF is “stepping out of this and just watching the process play out. We will thoroughly review their aircraft selection to make sure that it’s comprehensive, impartial, and compliant with all the applicable statutes and regulations.”