Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is throwing its hat in the ring against Boeing and Northrop with a bid to recapitalize the U.S. Air Force’s E-8C ground surveillance aircraft fleet with a newly formed team.

Raytheon will provide the primary sensor package with the Bombardier Global 6000 as its primary platform choice for now, says Jack O’Banion, vice president of strategy  and customer requirements for Skunk Works. The team agreement was finalized last week and is being announced today at the Paris air show, he tells Aviation Week. The agreement with Bombardier is not exclusive.

“Our desire was not to create exclusive arrangement that would in any way preclude them from reaching a best-of-breed solution, whether that is with us or if they saw a better arrangement elsewhere,” O’Banion says. “We didn’t see it as a virtuous path forward to limit the government’s options.”

The U.S. Air Force plans to recapitalize its 16 E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft with 17 new jets. The goal is to downsize, both physically and in operating cost. Built on used and missionized 707-300s, the E-8C fleet is aging and maintenance hungry. Air Force officials contend that moving to a business jet will provide a far more efficient fleet.

The service plans to spend about $4.3 billion on the project.

Skunk Works – known for its prowess in integrating intelligence aircraft — is leading this program. This is perhaps drawing on lessons from the company’s failed bid for the Army’s Aerial Common Sensor program, which cratered once Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems & Solutions’ selection of the Embraer ERJ 145 proved far too small for the mission. O’Banion says the company learned from that bitter pill and is designing the Joint Stars bid with growth space in mind.

The sensor package remains shrouded in secrecy. It will be a scaled version – at roughly 16 ft. – of an existing radar developed by Raytheon in the classified world, says Eric Hofstatter, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works Joint Stars recap program manager. Raytheon currently provides the sensors for the Navy’s P-8, the Dismount Detection Radar for the Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aircraft and the sensor for the United Kingdom’s Astor ground surveillance system.

The Air Force plans to award up to three pre-development contracts for up to 12 months of work in August. This work should include a systems requirements review, systems functional review and preliminary design review with the Air Force, Hofstatter said. A ground-based demonstration of the battle management command and control system as well as a flight demo of the radar are also likely to be part of the work. Hofstatter say a demo radar already exists.

With the reduced aircraft size, the Air Force expects to shrink its onboard crew from 18 to 10. O’Banion says Lockheed Martin has demonstrated in the laboratory that through automation and software, the manpower can indeed be reduced.

The company has done much work in the classified world to base its system on an open architecture, which will allow the Air Force to “own the baseline,” he said.

The Air Force plans to release a request for proposals for a development contract in late 2016 or early 2017 with a contract award to follow in late 2017.

Two development aircraft are to be delivered in 2019.