WASHINGTON — Northrop Grumman has formally partnered Gulfstream and L-3 on its offering to the US Air Force Joint STARS recapitalization effort.

The news makes official what had been widely expected around the industry — that Northrop's JSTARS solution will be based on Gulfstream's G550 business jet.

Northrop has been using the G550 as a test bed for JSTARS technology, but had not officially based its business case around the design. Gulfstream is a subsidiary of General Dynamics.

While Gulfstream will supply the platform, L-3 will bring its background in modifying aircraft for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to the group.

It's a team that Northrop hopes will allow it to keep the JSTARS program in-house. Northrop developed the current fleet of systems.

"We have unmatched, proven expertise to advance the US Air Force's battle management command and control, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission," Tom Vice, corporate vice president and president, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, said in a company statement announcing the news.

"We meet, or exceed, the Air Force's acquisition requirements by integrating our team's independently developed, mature and proven systems at the lowest cost, with the lowest risk to provide an innovative acquisition solution."

The E-8 JSTARS, short for Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, is a modified Boeing 707-300 with long-range radars the Air Force says can locate, track and classify ground vehicles at a distance of up to 124 miles. There are 18 platforms in inventory.

Because the 707-300 is no longer being produced, upkeep costs on the existing JSTRS fleet are expected to continue to rise. Those costs, combined with great advances in technology since the JSTARS entered service, have led the Air Force to begin the process of recapitalizing the fleet.

However, Northrop and its competition at Boeing are going in two very different directions. While Northrop is going with a small business jet, Boeing has put forth a modified 737-700 commercial airliner as its offering.

Last September, Rod Meranda, business development lead for the Boeing JSTARS program, told reporters in September that they opted for a bigger aircraft in order to meet future requirements, something that is expected to be a factor in the Air Force's decision.

Not incidentally, the Northrop release highlights that team's use of "open architecture and commercial-off-the-shelf technologies" to provide capacity for future growth.

Twitter: @AaronMehta