The contest is between Raytheon and a consortium led by its US competitor, Lockheed Martin. A third bidder, comprising British Aerospace in partnership with Northrop Grumman, has fallen out of the race.
Raytheon and the Lockheed consortium, which is called TeamASTOR, gave evidence in camera to MPs on the Defence Select Committee yesterday. The MoD's equipment approval committee meets on Thursday to recommend a preferred bidder, and the final decision will be made a fortnight after that by a Cabinet sub-committee chaired by the Prime Minister.
The Raytheon consortium, which includes Marconi and Shorts of Belfast, is thought to be ahead in the contest. But TeamASTOR is making a late bid to snatch victory, claiming that British expertise in airborne surveillance will be lost abroad if the rival bid is selected.
The export market for the airborne stand-off radar system is put at around pounds 3bn.
Galen Ho, chief executive of Lockheed Martin Tactical Systems, said: "It would be a travesty to move and develop this world class capability offshore. TeamASTOR is the only solution that keeps design authority here."
The TeamASTOR consortium also includes Marconi as well as Racal, Logica and Marshall Aerospace. It is promising that 100 per cent of the work will be carried out in the UK, providing 2,000 direct high-technology jobs.
However, Raytheon is promising to create 2,400 jobs in the UK. It has signed up 85 UK companies as industrial partners and says that 75 per cent of the radar will be built in Britain.
Raytheon's bid also has the support of the leaders of three unions: Ken Jackson of the AEEU, John Edmonds of the General, Municipal and Boilermakers and Roger Lyons of the MSF.
The airborne stand-off radar will be fitted into high-speed business jets and used to beam surveillance pictures and data back to military commanders in mobile ground stations.
The Raytheon system will be flown in the Bombardier Global Express aircraft, which it claims is larger, more modern and more powerful than the Gulfstream IV aircraft which TeamASTOR is offering.
Shorts of Belfast manufactures 25 per cent of the Global Express, supporting 700 jobs.