When Raytheon won a hard-fought competition to develop the Navy’s Next Generation Jammer last month, it was widely viewed as a breakthrough victory. Many observers had thought the Massachusetts-based contractor was an also-ran in a contest that mainly pitted incumbent jammer producer Northrop Grumman against electronic-warfare powerhouse BAE Systems, successor to the legendary Sanders Associates. So when Raytheon unexpectedly won, people had to rethink what they thought they knew about the EW business.
However, one thing Raytheon’s win didn’t change was the propensity of contractors to use the congressional budgeting process as a way of circumventing unwelcome decisions by military buyers. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a total shock that Bloomberg News Pentagon correspondent Tony Capaccio this week revealed language in a Senate Appropriations Committee report that might threaten Raytheon’s win. The Senate committee’s defense panel complained that selecting a single contractor to execute the next stage in jammer development “is inconsistent with some of the basic tenets of the Weapon System Acquisition Reform Act of 2009, including those that encourage competition throughout the acquisition life cycle.”
You’d have to be pretty naive to think the committee came up with this idea on their own. As a rule, Senators don’t know much about electronic warfare or acquisition policy, but they have finely-tuned political antennae for any Pentagon decision that endangers home-state interests. There’s a high likelihood somebody from industry — presumably a losing contractor, subcontractor or other interested party — suggested to staffers that now would be a good time to take the 2009 reform act seriously, at least as far as future jammers are concerned. Insisting on continuing competition throughout the life-cycle of the program would greatly complicate program management and force the government to fund at least two industry teams for many years to come, but maybe legislators can live with that if the alternative is to see a home-state favorite shut out of the market.
I’m not in a position to judge the merits of what Raytheon offered, but the U.S. Navy understands electronic warfare better than any other buyer in the world, and it decided Raytheon had the best approach. That approach included the ability to cover more frequencies simultaneously at far greater ranges with an agile family of jamming pods that would be more reliable than those in use today. The Navy is the only U.S. service that has thought clearly about airborne electronic warfare since the Cold War ended, and it has repeatedly stated that the new jammer needs to be fielded expeditiously to the joint force to avert potentially fatal vulnerabilities. Thus, if the language in the Senate appropriations report delays the Next Generation Jammer or makes it harder to afford in an austere budget environment, it will be a profound disservice to warfighters and taxpayers alike.
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