The Air Force has handed out three one-year contracts to further develop competing designs for the JSTARS replacement program
. The competition to replace the fleet of Northrop Grumman E-8Cs is scheduled to lead to a production contract before the JSTARS fleet is retired from FY2019. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman were each awarded
pre-engineering and manufacturing (EMD) contracts - Boeing and Northrop Grumman each approximately $10 million, with Lockheed Martin receiving the largest at $11.5 million - as a risk-reduction measure ahead of a planned production contract expected in late 2017. A Request for Proposal (RFP) is anticipated ahead of this date, with the Air Force planning
to award two EMD contracts for test aircraft, followed by a further contract for three low-rate initial production aircraft.
The USA’s 17-plane E-8C J-STARS (Joint Surveillance Targeting and Attack Radar System) fleet’s ability to monitor enemy ground movements over very wide areas, while seeing through problematic weather conditions, has made it an invaluable contributor to every US military ground campaign over the last 15+ years. Other countries are finally introducing similar capabilities, but the JSTARS fleet size, maturity, and array of functions make it a unique class asset for America’s entire alliance structure. All Boeing 707 family E-8 Joint STARS aircraft are assigned to the Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th Air Control Wing at Robins Air Force Base, GA, a “total-force blended wing” with active-duty Air Force, Army and Air National Guard personnel.
An asset like that needs to be kept current, or replaced with something that is. E-8 planes have received both system upgrades and R&D work, in order to improve aircraft readiness and operating costs. A 3rd round of upgrades is beginning, but the USAF seems to be leaning toward a limited future for its battlefield surveillance and relay planes.
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