WASHINGTON, Oct 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force is close to announcing the winner of a three-way competition between Lockheed Martin Corp, Raytheon Co and Northrop Grumman Corp to build the next generation of long-range radars, senior military officials said.
"We're close. We're working our way through the approval process," Air Force Lieutenant General Ellen Pawlikowski, the service's top military acquisition official, told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.
One source familiar with the process said Frank Kendall, the Pentagon's chief arms buyer, had approved the Air Force's acquisition plan for the new radar late Tuesday, and a contract announcement was likely early next week.
The announcement will mark the next phase of a program that initially began in 2009, with the Air Force funding work on full-scale prototypes by all three companies.
The initial contract will fund continued development and low-rate production of a few radar systems, followed by orders for nearly 30 more. Industry executives also see potential opportunities for selling the system to U.S. allies.
Kendall had told Reuters in an interview earlier Tuesday that he was "not quite finished" looking at the Air Force's business plan for the Three-Dimensional Expeditionary Long-Range Radar program, or 3DELLR, but an announcement could come soon.
The new system will replace the Air Force's current TPS-75 radar, which has been in service since the late 1960s. It will serve as the Air Force' primary long-range, ground-based sensors for detecting and tracking aircraft and missiles.
In its request for proposals, the Air Force said it expected the new system to be more accurate, reliable and give air controllers a precise view of aircraft and missiles.
Pawlikowski said the Air Force had applied some of the lessons it learned on other large-scale acquisition programs in structuring the next-generation radar program, including efforts to strictly rein in military requirements and funding work on prototypes before choosing a design.
Executives at the three companies have been expecting a contract announcement for several weeks. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Andrew Hay)