Northrop and McDonnell Douglas said Monday that they have formed a team to jointly pursue the U.S. Air Force's Advanced Tactical Fighter program.
The announcement follows the earlier formation of another team made up of Lockheed, General Dynamics and Boeing. Rockwell International and Grumman, the other two firms involved in the competition to develop the airplane, have not joined a team.
The seven defense contractors were due to submit their individual bids for the demonstration and validation phase of the ATF program on Monday. The ATF is expected to be the Air Force's principal air defense fighter in future decades.
The Air Force has been quietly advocating that the companies form teams on the ATF program. The service believes that the teams will pool their funding, thereby reducing the cost to the Pentagon. In addition, the teaming system spreads work throughout the industry in an era when there is not enough work to keep every firm in business.
All seven companies in the ATF competition are submitting separate proposals, so the alliances that have been formed could be made obsolete when the Air Force selects the winners.
Under the Northrop/McDonnell agreement, the two firms will share the ATF program if either one wins one of the two contracts that the Air Force will award to develop prototypes. If neither firm wins or both firms win, the agreement would presumably be dissolved.
In the mid-1970s, Northrop and McDonnell formed a team to work on the F-18, a Navy aircraft that is currently in production. The two firms got into a protracted legal battle that ended when McDonnell paid Northrop $50 million in an out-of-court settlement.
A Northrop spokesman said the disputes involved in that lawsuit "have been behind us for quite some time."