Northrop Grumman Systems won a $495 million contract
for the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft. This contract provides for modernization and sustainment of 16 mission and one trainer aircraft. The deal will support the current JSTARS
Program Office and Air Combat Command projections of improvements to increase or maintain E-8C performance, capability, reliability, and maintainability. The JSTARS is an airborne battle management, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform. Its primary mission is to provide theater ground and air commanders with situational awareness to support military operations. In 2015, team JSTARS set a major milestone when they surpassed 100,000-combat flying hours in support of the US Central Command while flying the E-8C Joint STARS out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Northrop will perform work at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia; and Melbourne, Florida, and is expected to be completed by Sept. 26, 2024.
These surveillance and communications relay capabilities are somewhat unique, and have proven extremely useful in a series of conflicts from Desert Storm in 1991 to the present day. Europe originally intended to field a similar, smaller AGS aircraft based on the Airbus A321, but that project has now been cut to a small fleet of RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs. With the Global Hawk limited by its payload capacity, and the USA’s E-10A program canceled, the USA’s 17-aircraft operational JSTARS fleet is likely to remain very popular for some time to come. The question is how to keep that fleet relevant, flying, and allocated among all of the units clamoring for their attention.