Jan 29, 2014
USAF reveals plan to replace JSTARS with business jets by 2022
The US Air Force has taken the first step in a newly revealed, eight-year process to develop and field a business jet-sized replacement for the Northrop Grumman E-8C joint surveillance target attack radar system (JSTARS).
The JSTARS Recapitalisation programme seeks to achieve an initial operational capability in 2022 with a “more efficient airframe” in the business jet class. It will be acquired using separate contracts for developing the aircraft.
The USAF revealed the strategy in a request for information to suppliers interested in bidding for the BMC2 system.
But the release of the request for information on the new BMC2 system may indicate the USAF intends to request funding to launch the overall JSTARS Recap programme in FY2015. If funded, the project would create a rare opportunity for the aerospace industry to win a developmental contract, with several potential candidates available to compete.
In the last decade, Boeing and Raytheon have challenged Northrop’s position, proposing or fielding aircraft with ground moving target indication (GMTI) capability: the heart of the JSTARS mission. Raytheon delivered five Sentinel R1 surveillance aircraft to the UK, which modify the Bombardier Global Express business jet to carry a Raytheon/BAE Systems synthetic aperture radar with a GMTI mode. Boeing, meanwhile, proposed a variant of the 737-based P-8A anti-submarine and maritime patrol aircraft with a similar, Raytheon-built radar.
The JSTARS mission of detecting ground targets at long range at night or in poor weather evolved in the late 1980s. Northrop supplied recently modified Boeing 707s, which played a starring role in Operation Desert Storm in 1991, when the aircraft detected a major Iraqi troop movement in the midst of a seemingly blinding sandstorm.
Replacing or upgrading the 60-year-old aircraft which comprise the ground surveillance fleet of 16 E-8Cs has been debated since the USAF cancelled the Northrop E-10A multisensor command and control aircraft in 2007.
A 30-year forecast of airpower capability released by the US Department of Defense last year assumed that the E-8C fleet would remain in place over the next three decades, although the USAF has acknowledged the aircraft need several upgrades to keep flying beyond 2025.
The USAF signalls that replacing the E-8C has become a priority.