The US Air Force (USAF) has started the initial phase of recapitalisation of its legacy Northrop Grumman-built E-8C joint surveillance target attack radar system (Joint STARS) aircraft fleet.
The air force is currently conducting risk reduction studies and market research for the aircraft, radar and communications, and intends to use existing contracts to define requirements, support demos and issue preliminary designs during the initial phase.
JSTARS Recapitalization programme manager lieutenant colonel Michael Harm said the utilisation of existing contracts will lead to more opportunities for small businesses to participate in both the acquisition and sustainment of the new fleet.
"One of our goals is to develop modular, scalable subsystems using an open systems architecture approach to enable rapid improvements in the future," Harm said.
The recapitalisation project stemmed from a 2011 study that examined options for conducting the JSTARS mission most effectively and efficiently in future, and recommended delivery of an advanced radar and on-board computer system on a significantly smaller, more efficient business jet class airframe.
Scheduled to be performed at a cost of $73m, the project will replace USAF's existing Joint STARS fleet with a modern and more efficient airframe and enhance its ability to detect threats, process data and distribute information.
The initial operational capability (IOC) for the new aircraft is expected to be declared in the first quarter of 2022, while a potential full operational capability (FOC) is scheduled for 2025.
A derivative of Boeing's 707-300 series commercial airliner, the E-8C Joint STARS conducts ground surveillance to help commanders develop an understanding of the enemy situation, while simultaneously transmitting target locations to aircraft and ground strike forces.
The long-range, airborne battle management and command-and-control (C2) platform uses an AN/APY-7 multimode side-looking radar for detection, tracking and classification of moving ground vehicles in all weather conditions from standoff distances.
Image: An USAF E-8C Joint STARS pulls away after refueling from a KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft. Photo: courtesy of USAF Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock/Released.