WASHINGTON — The US Army is resuming work to build a new infrared-guided missile countermeasure system for its aircraft fleet, following a settlement between BAE Systems and the service after the company protested the Army's decision to choose Northrop Grumman for the project.
On Nov. 25, BAE quietly withdrew a protest that it had filed in September over Northrop's $35 million award to build the Common Infrared Countermeasure (CIRCM) system. The company said it had reached a settlement with the Army, prompting the withdrawal of the protest.
The Army on Wednesday would not disclose any details of the settlement, but said it was able to authorize Northrop Grumman to resume work on Nov. 30 that the company was forced to stop during the protest period.
Lt. Col. Kevin Chaney, product manager for aircraft survivability equipment (ASE) countermeasures, told reporters that the Army is preparing to conduct a post-award conference with Northrop Grumman on Jan. 13 and 14 at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, which will address a variety of topics on how to proceed.
Chaney said the Army plans to reach a low-rate initial production decision in the middle of fiscal 2018 and a full-rate production decision in fiscal 2020. An initial operational test and evaluation will be conducted in fiscal 2019.
CIRCM, designed to protect aircraft from infrared-guided missiles, will replace BAE's Advanced Threat Infrared Countermeasure system already on Army helicopters. The Army plans to field over 1,000 systems to support training and deployment on all helicopters and some fixed-wing aircraft around the world, Col. Jong Lee, the project manager for aircraft survivability equipment, said. The current system weighs 300 pounds whereas the new system comes in at 120 pounds, meeting one of the key requirements for a new system.
Details beyond the engineering and manufacturing development phase have yet to be determined, according to Lee. When it comes to full production of the CIRCM systems, the Army is "still developing our strategy," he said.
But the lab and flight testing planned during the EMD phase will help the Army shape that strategy and other plans for the new system going forward, Lee said.
Several analysts questioned at the time of the CIRCM award whether Northrop would reap all the CIRCM spoils.
While the initial order is small, the Army could buy up to 71 systems if all contract options are exercised, bringing the EMD contract total to $140 million.
Ultimately, the service plans to spend more than $3 billion to buy 1,076 systems. And that's just the Army's order; more opportunity exists in the international market and potentially the commercial world.
Because the EMD contract contains several options, analysts said it leaves the door open for BAE.
"It will probably take a few years to play out," Roman Schweizer, Guggenheim Partners defense policy analyst, told Defense News at the time. "The two next questions are, one, can Northrop execute on this strong opportunity and, two, is there a way that BAE can innovate or take a different technology route to remain competitive in the market."
The Lexington Institute's Loren Thompson said the CIRCM award represents a wider approach in acquisition strategy to avoid "vendor lock." If Northrop falters, BAE will be waiting to pick up the pieces, he said.
Lee and Chaney touted Northrop's design for its open architecture, which would allow for competition in the future in terms of new or increased capability, whether it's to address new threats or improve the system.
The Army wanted a design that "is flexible and allows us to incorporate the latest technologies," Chaney said.