US Army awards Northrop $1.4 billion contract for future battle command system

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UPDATE This story has been updated to include a statement from Northrop Grumman.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army awarded Northrop Grumman a $1.4 billion contract for both low-rate initial production and full-rate production of its future battle command system, according to a Dec. 23 Pentagon contract announcement.

“This award represents the first significant competition for this major defense acquisition program since the 2009 award of the engineering and manufacturing development contract” to Northrop Grumman, a Dec. 23 Army statement notes.

The service received two bids, according to the DoD announcement. The estimated completion date for the contract is Dec. 22, 2026.

The Army’s Integrated Battle Command System, or IBCS, will link sensors and shooters across the battlefield. It was cleared for production in January 2021.

The program has cost the Army roughly $2.7 billion to develop to date and was originally meant to serve only as the command-and-control system for the Army’s future Integrated Air-and-Missile Defense System against regional ballistic missile threats. But the service has since expanded its role to tie together a broad array of sensors and shooters capable of defeating other complex threats, such as cruise missiles and unmanned aircraft.

The program experienced an almost four-year delay and struggled in a 2016 limited user test. But following several soldier checkouts and other test events over the past few years, the system had a successful limited user test in summer 2020.

The system is currently in an initial operational test and evaluation phase expected to wrap up in early 2022.

The program is not only important to the United States but also Poland, the first international customer under contract to purchase the IBCS system for its Patriot batteries.

Under the contract issued Thursday, Northrop will deliver up to 160 systems to the Army and foreign partners, the Army statement notes.

“In partnership with the U.S. Army, Northrop Grumman will deliver IBCS to the warfighter, bringing its critical all domain capabilities to the changing battlefield,” Mary Petryszyn, Northrop Grumman Defense Systems president, said in a Dec. 23 statement sent to Defense News. “It’s also a major milestone in the extension of our open systems architecture approach to JADC2.”

JADC2, or Joint All Domain Command and Control, is the Pentagon’s major effort to connect all sensors on the battlefield to warfighters, enabling faster transfer of data, information, intelligence and communications across platforms and services.

The Army expects to reach a full-rate production decision on IBCS in fiscal 2023. “The contract will enable the program to seamlessly ramp up production to meet Army fielding priorities,” according to the Army statement.

The IBCS program is executed within the Integrated Fires Mission Command portfolio, part of the Army’s Program Executive Office Missiles and Space.

Meanwhile, the Army also on Thursday awarded a $240 million contract to Boeing to integrate Improved Turbine Engine Program (ITEP) engines into the AH-64E Apache attack helicopter. The estimated completion date is Dec. 31, 2026.

The Army validated its design for ITEP and a year ago the service was on schedule to deliver the first engine for testing in the fourth quarter of FY21. But due to coronavirus pandemic complications, the Army has pushed that to January 2022.

The service plans to use the next-generation engine in all Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter engines as well as the engines of the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft it plans to field in the 2030s.

Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club’s best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards’ best young defense journalist in 2018.

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Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.