The U.S. Air Force is expected to decide whether to stick with Boeing’s original next-generation, secure communications terminal or opt for a competing design from Raytheon as early as March, according to industry officials.

Raytheon lost the Family of Beyond-Line-of-Sight terminals, designed for secure communications for Air Force aircraft, nearly 11 years ago. But the company got its foot back into the door due to technical problems with Boeing’s $4.7 billion development program. Sixteen months ago the Air Force embarked on an alternative design path with Raytheon as a backup plan; the company has been working under a $70 million contract.

Funding pressure on the Air Force prompted the service to reduce the scope of the forthcoming production run, says Scott Whatmough, vice president of integrated communication systems at Raytheon. Once envisioned to include 216 terminals, the service plans to include funding in its fiscal 2015 budget for 84 Command Post Terminals.

These are needed for the large E-4 Advanced Airborne Command Post, which would be the president’s airborne command center in an emergency, and the E-6 Looking Glass, used to command nuclear forces.

“We have positioned ourselves well,” Whatmough told reporters during a Jan. 22 press telecon. “We went into this making some very big commitments on an aggressive schedule.”

He says 90% of the software for the system is finished, and the next major step is to put the terminal through environmental testing, which is slated to begin late in the first quarter of 2014.

Meanwhile, Boeing’s team has delivered five of 11 engineering development models; the remainder are being prepared for operational checkout, says Richard Esposito, a company spokesman. System integration and functional qualification testing is complete and environmental trials are roughly 75% complete, he says.