Following a bidding war with protests beginning December 2010 against the Army and its selection process, Boeing was finally awarded the contract when the stop-work was lifted on June 16 to begin building the Enhanced Medium Altitude Reconnaissance Surveillance System, or EMARSS.
The contract includes an option for additional two Engineering and Manufacturing Development units and options for Interim Contractor Logistics Support, as well as, options for a total of six Low Rate Initial Production units and corresponding support.
"(Because of the protest) the GAO (Government Accounting Office) asked the Army to review its areas which did the selection," said Lt. Col. Dean Hoffman, product manager for the Medium Altitude Reconnaissance Surveillance System.
"The Army did that, went back to the source selection authority, and gave its determination of which, once again, the authority decided that Boeing is the best value for the government," Hoffman said.
The three losing bidders -- L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin/Sierra Nevada, and Northrop Grumman -- filed protests with the U.S. Government Accountability Office after Boeing's Nov. 30 win of the contract. As a result, the Army put a stop-work order in place for Boeing.
"When the contract stop-work was lifted on June 16, we began talking with Boeing immediately (in preparation for our first formal meeting). On July 11, the last day any protest could be submitted, you can probably imagine, we were all excited to get right to work and that's exactly what we've done," he said.
The kick-off meeting between the EMARSS program and Boeing was held on July 12 through 14.
An EMARSS program press release described the aircraft as "a manned multi-intelligence system that (will) detect, locate, classify, identify, and trace surface targets in day and night, near-all-weather conditions with a high degree of timeliness and accuracy. (It) will provide direct support to Brigade Combat Teams with a vital intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability."
"You can see how fast we went into it," Hoffman said. "Based on the schedule and the emphasis of this program, the Defense Acquisitions University came in and helped facilitate that kick-off meeting and I can tell you right now, that was a huge plus to us."
"It really helped us (make) sure that our Integrative Product Team structures were properly organized, our charters were properly aligned, we had the right people in the right position and we could get the work done faster. We came up with a battle rhythm," he explained.
Part of how the program proceeded, said Hoffman, is based on what Gen. David Petraeus, who has served as the senior combatant commander in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has repeated over the past few years.
"We don't need the 100 percent solution (years from now). We need the 50 or 70 percent solution (now). Get it out to the warfighter and then build upon that," Petraeus said.
"Whatever we put out in the field in the future, has to have a baseline and be sustainable," Hoffman explained. "I think that's really the future of where we're going with this project. I'm constantly (asking) how do we start baselining the aircraft, as far as cockpit to help facilitate training -- baselining the interior and the boxes (enclosures that contain processing equipment)?"
"But, we also (need) modular-type architecture that allows us to grow as we face this irregular threat and I think that's a key thing there. It has to be modular. Even though today, (I'm already asking) what's the next greatest box or capability or technology that's coming, and if we put a platform out there that's not able to adapt to that, we're going to be in trouble," Hoffman said.
Hoffman said his team just recently had a "lessons learned" meeting where they asked about preparation to accept new technology in a baseline platform.
"When we sat down with the Boeing engineers, they really got that we can't make this a one-off platform that can't grow as technology and capabilities grow," he said.
"What I'm trying to stress is build for today but think for tomorrow. This means we have a direct requirement and that's exactly what we're going to build today. But we know that that requirement, once it's out there in 18 months, in 24 months we're going to need more capability on that platform," he said.
Essentially, Hoffman said, his team needs to be thinking of all the capabilities that could possibly go on a platform when setting up.
"Where are we going to put antennas, how are we going to lay out the racks and the positions in the actual platform, thus allowing us -- as different capabilities come along, boxes get smaller, and we get weight reduction things -- we can adapt and do this plug and play," Hoffman said.
Boeing's EMARSS will consist of a commercial derivative aircraft -- the Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350 -- equipped with an electro-optic and infrared full-motion video sensor, a communications intelligence collection system, an aerial precision guidance system, line-of-sight tactical and beyond-line-of-sight communications suites, two operator workstations, and a self-protection suite.
Its capabilities include an electro-optical/infrared with full motion video sensor, a communications intelligence sensor, and an Aerial Precision Guidance sensor -- all supported by line-of-sight and beyond line-of-sight communications.
EMARSS operates as a single platform in support of tactical missions, but through connectivity to tactical and national networks, also contributes to the joint overall aerial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or AISR, constellation.
This combination of attributes, plus many others, provides the ground tactical commander an assured near-real-time operational view of the battlespace, enabling tactical ground forces to operate at their highest potential.
Asked if budget cuts might affect the program, Hoffman said he has the funding to get the program to the 18th month.
"The government has always been good about awarding success," he said, adding that everyone is excited to start building aircraft, everybody knows the mission and the time-frame they have to do it in, and since that kick-off meeting, it's been fast forward.
"What we're hoping is to be able to have the first platform deployed as a Christmas present in the 2012, early 2013 time-frame," Hoffman said.
Article by Rob McIlvaine, VOA News