This story was updated Sept. 17, 2021, with comment from the U.S. Navy.

WASHINGTON — L3Harris Technologies has filed suit Sept. 7 in the Court of Federal Claims protesting a decision by the Government Accountability Office requiring the Navy to potentially reopen discussion and request revised proposals for the next increment of a powerful airborne jammer.

The Aug. 18 GAO decision sided with Northrop Grumman, who alleged the Navy failed to consider the impact of a potential conflict of interest for a Navy employee that developed specifications for the system in question — the Next Generation Jammer Low Band pod — while simultaneously negotiating for employment with L3Harris during the solicitation.

The decision agreed with Northrop that there was the appearance of an unfair competitive advantage in favor of L3Harris. The GAO also said the Navy must engage individuals with the requisite technical expertise to conduct an independent review of the individual in question’s input during the relevant period of conflict to determine if their input was consistent with the Navy’s actual requirements.

If the Navy determines the specifications reflect needs, GAO recommended the Navy reopen discussions, request revised proposals, evaluate proposals and make a new source-selection decision.

However, if the Navy decides its specifications have changed, GAO recommended the service issue an amendment reflecting updated requirements, request revised proposals and make a new source selection decision.

The Navy previously determined allegations did not rise to the level of a significant conflict of interest.

All the relevant court documents are under seal.

“We fundamentally believe the GAO decision is wrong and we filed a protest of that effect in the Court of Federal Claims to support the Navy’s award decision,” Dana Mehnert, president of the Communications Systems segment at L3Harris, told C4ISRNET.

In a statement, Northrop told C4ISRNET it is looking forward to continuing to support the Navy as it determines how best to meet its Next Generation Jammer Low Band requirements.

“Program Executive Officer for Tactical Aircraft Programs (PEO(T)), who oversees PMA-234, is assembling the Independent Review Team and PMA-234 is developing the revised evaluation schedule. The program expects the Independent Review Team (IRT) to begin their review this month. The IRT’s review will not be limited to any specific amount of time, but rather the IRT will be asked to conduct a comprehensive review pursuant to the GAO’s recommendations,” a Navy spokesperson told C4ISRNET. “If the specification is validated, PMA-234 will determine the best way to deliver this critical capability to the fleet expeditiously. If the IRT finds the specification does not accurately trace to the Navy’s operational requirements, PMA-234 will issue an amendment to the Request for Proposal with updated requirements, request revised proposals, and make a new source selection decision.”

The program in question is the Next Generation Jammer, which will serve as the Navy’s premier aerial electronic attack platform that will replace the ALQ-99 jamming pod and be mounted aboard EA-18 Growler aircraft. It has been broken into three pods covering three portions of the electromagnetic spectrum: mid, low and high.

Raytheon was awarded the mid-band pod in 2016.

The Navy has not included a specific line item on par with the mid- or high-band in at least the last three budget requests.

For the low-band procurement, the Navy decided to undergo a different approach it described as a demonstration of existing technologies. In 2018, it awarded Northrop and L3 Technologies a contract to help inform the Navy of how to continue to mature the program for the Low-Band jammer.

At the time of the award, L3 Technologies had not yet merged with Harris Corporation, which was completed in July 2019. Harris Corporation was part of the Northrop team at the time.

L3Harris eventually won the contract in December 2020 under what was dubbed Capability Baseline 1, which seeks to take the demonstration technology to the preproduction phase and fully evolve the solution.

The GAO’s report noted the “technical factor is significantly more important than the cost factor, and under the technical factor, proposals will be assigned a technical rating and a technical risk rating.”

The report cited the Navy’s description of Northrop’s technical rating as “unacceptable,” with an “unacceptable” technical risk rating. The report also cited the Navy’s description of L3Harris’ technical rating as “outstanding,” with a “moderate” technical risk rating despite being $48 million more costly.

“Fundamentally, you have to look at the differences in the ratings. … That’s not a gap you close by an amendment to a bid. That’s not something that somebody multiple levels down in an organization is going to steer,” Mehnert said. “That’s a fundamental disconnect between the solutions versus the Navy’s requirement.”

Work on the project is currently stalled while the protest is hashed out.

L3Harris believes its suit could lead to a more expeditious decision.

“One of the reasons we filed the protest in the Court of Federal Claims was to try to preclude a further drawn out process if the Navy went back and went through an evaluation process and there was another GAO protest,” Mehnert said.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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