Months after the Air Force gave Raytheon the axe on the Three-Dimensional Expeditionary Long-Range Radar (3DELRR) program, the service has tapped three new companies to work on next-generation ground-based radars.

Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Australian firm CEA Technologies were each awarded $500,000 on May 8 for a 3DELRR rapid prototyping effort known as “SpeedDealer,” the Air Force announced Monday.

3DELRR will replace the legacy AN/TPS-75 radar used to detect and track aerial targets flying at long distances. Raytheon had beaten Northrop and Lockheed for the contract in 2017 after a protracted competition that included multiple protests over the award.

After schedule delays and technical challenges mounted, the Air Force announced in January that it was concluding its work with Raytheon on the program. Instead, the service would seek out off-the-shelf options from industry that could be fielded faster.

“Each award provides $500,000 for the companies to demonstrate their radar system’s capabilities, maintenance concepts and radar performance against operationally-relevant targets and conditions, no later than the end of September,” the Air Force said in a statement. The service would then determine whether a prototype is ready for integration or production, with additional contracts potentially awarded by the end of 2020.

Initial operational capability of a production-ready radar could occur as early as fiscal year 2024, the service said.

Despite a global pandemic, the program is already moving at a fast pace. After holding an industry day in February, the Air Force released a solicitation for the 3DELRR program on March 2, said Lt. Col. Matthew Judge, materiel leader. The three companies were selected less than a month from when industry proposals were due on April 15.

“We are not starting over; this is not a new development contract,” said Col. Michael Harm, 3DELRR’s senior materiel leader. “Through the information presented during our industry day and received in the companies’ response to the solicitation, we were able to confirm that production-ready systems can be demonstrated this year.”

Judge added: “We are excited to see what these three systems can do.”

Lockheed and Northrop’s work will be funded under a contracting mechanism known as an “other transaction authority,” which is typically used for prototype projects. As a foreign company, CEA has been granted a Foreign Comparative Test project award, the service said in a statement.

Northrop Grumman will demonstrate its solution this summer, said Mike Meaney, the company’s vice president for land and maritime sensors.

“We are confident that our solution meets the Air Force’s needs and is the most affordable, low-risk, and validated system available,” he said. “With successful completion of test demonstrations, a hot full-rate production line and opportunities for capability growth, we are confident that the Northrop Grumman solution is uniquely positioned to fulfill the Air Force 3DELRR mission need."

Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.

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