WASHINGTON —  The U.S. Air Force has awarded the two final preproduction contracts, worth about $4.6 million combined, for a hotly contested military satellite communications terminal project, according to an announcement posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website Oct. 8. 

Boeing Network and Space Systems of Arlington, Va., and McKinney, Texas-based Raytheon Network Centric Systems are developing competing Family of Beyond Line-of-Sight Terminals (FAB-T), which would enable the president to communicate with the national command authority in the event of a nuclear war. The terminals are designed to operate with the Air Force’s Advanced Extremely High Frequency constellation of highly secure, jam-proof communications satellites.

Both companies received $2.3 million in contracts for final FAB-T startup and planning on Sept. 27, according to the website.

The Air Force is expected to downselect to a single contractor in January, industry executives say. 

Between now and then the service also must decide the scope of the program, including whether the Air Force will deploy the terminals at ground and airborne command centers only, or include them aboard its strategic bombers and certain electronic-surveillance aircraft as well.

Boeing and Raytheon each were awarded $1.8 million to plan for the possibility of the Air Force choosing the full suite of FAB-T capabilities. Another $500,000 apiece goes toward preparing for terminals at ground and airborne command centers only.

Indications are that the service is leaning toward the lower-priced option. In a report delivered to Congress last year, the Air Force said it would defer indefinitely its plan to deploy FAB-T aboard its B-2 and B-52 bombers in favor of a less-expensive alternative based on very-low-frequency communications technology. 

The Senate Armed Services Committee, in a June report accompanying its version of the defense authorization bill, said it is the committee’s understanding that the Air Force plans to field only the ground and airborne-command-post versions of the terminal.

Mike Gruss is a senior staff writer for SpaceNews. He joined the publication in January 2013 to cover military space. Previously, he worked as a reporter and columnist for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. and The Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, Ind. He...