|E-8 Joint STARS|
|USAF E-8C Joint STARS|
|Role||Airborne battle management|
|Primary users||United States Air Force
Air National Guard
|Unit cost||US$244.4 million in 1998|
|Developed from||Boeing 707|
The E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) is a United States Air Force battle management and command and control aircraft that tracks ground vehicles and some aircraft, collects imagery, and relays tactical pictures to ground and air theater commanders.
Joint STARS evolved from separate United States Army and Air Force programs to develop, detect, locate and attack enemy armor at ranges beyond the forward area of troops. In 1982, the programs were merged and the U.S. Air Force became the lead agent. The concept and sensor technology for the E-8 was developed and tested on the Tacit Blue experimental aircraft. The prime contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman in September 1985 for two E-8A development systems. These aircraft were deployed in 1991 to participate in Operation Desert Storm under the direction of Albert J. Verderosa, even though they were still in development. The joint program accurately tracked mobile Iraqi forces, including tanks and Scud missiles. Crews flew developmental aircraft on 49 combat sorties, accumulating more than 500 combat hours and a 100% mission effectiveness rate.
Joint STARS developmental aircraft also participated in Operation Joint Endeavor, a NATO peacekeeping mission, in December 1995. While flying in friendly air space, the test-bed E-8A and pre-production E-8C aircraft monitored ground movements to confirm compliance with the Dayton Peace Treaty agreements. Crews flew 95 consecutive operational sorties and more than 1,000 flight hours with a 98% mission effectiveness rate.
The E-8C is a modified Boeing 707-300 series commercial airframe that carries specialized radar, communications, operations and control subsystems. The most prominent external feature is the 12 m (40 ft) canoe-shaped radome under the forward fuselage that houses the 7.3 m (24 ft) side-looking APY-7 phased array antenna.
The USAF has selected Pratt & Whitney to replace the engines of its 19 Joint STARS aircraft. Pratt & Whitney, in a joint venture with Seven Q Seven (SQS), will produce and deliver JT8D-219 engines. Their greater efficiency will allow the Joint STARS to spend more time on station. Joint STARS is to be used until 2025. As of 24 October 2008, all four Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 engines have been removed from the B707-330C testbed, N707HE, for installation on the Joint STARS test aircraft for evaluation.
To pick up moving targets, the radar looks at the Doppler frequency shift of the returned signal. It can look from a long range, which the military refers to as a high standoff capability. The antenna can be tilted to either side of the aircraft for a 120-degree field of view covering nearly 50,000 km² (19,305 mile²) and can simultaneously track 600 targets at more than 250 km (152 miles). The GMTI modes cannot pick up objects that are too small, insufficiently dense, or stationary. Data processing allows the APY-7 to differentiate between armored vehicles (tracked tanks) and trucks, allowing targeting personnel to better select the appropriate ordnance for various targets.
The system's SAR modes can produce images of stationary objects. Objects with many angles (for example, the interior of a pick-up bed) will give a much better radar signature, or specular return. In addition to being able to detect, locate and track large numbers of ground vehicles, the radar has a limited capability to detect helicopters, rotating antennas and low, slow-moving fixed-wing aircraft.
The radar and computer subsystems on the E-8C can gather and display broad and detailed battlefield information. Data is collected as events occur. This includes position and tracking information on enemy and friendly ground forces. The information is relayed in near-real time to the US Army's common ground stations via the secure jam-resistant surveillance and control data link (SCDL) and to other ground C4I nodes beyond line-of-sight via ultra high frequency satellite communications.
Other major E-8C prime mission equipment are the communications/datalink (COMM/DLX) and operations and control (O&C)subsystems. Eighteen operator workstations display computer-processed data in graphic and tabular format on video screens. Operators and technicians perform battle management, surveillance, weapons, intelligence, communications and maintenance functions.
In missions from peacekeeping operations to major theater war, the E-8C can provide targeting data and intelligence for attack aviation, naval surface fire, field artillery and friendly maneuver forces. The information helps air and land commanders to control the battlespace.
The E-8's ground-mover sensors can can tell approximate number of vehicles, location, speed, and direction of travel. They cannot identify the target is, tell what equipment it has, or discern whether it is friendly, hostile, or a bystander. So commanders often crosscheck the JSTARS data against other sources. In the Army, JSTARS is analyzed in and disseminated from the Ground Station Module (GSM).
The E-8C can respond quickly and effectively to support worldwide military contingency operations. It is a jam-resistant system capable of operating while experiencing heavy electronic countermeasures. The E-8C can fly a mission profile for 9 hours without refueling. Its range and on-station time can be substantially increased through in-flight refueling.
The 93d Air Control Wing, which activated 29 January 1996, accepted its first aircraft, 11 June 1996, and deployed in support of Operation Joint Endeavor in October. The provisional 93d Air Expeditionary Group monitored treaty compliance while NATO rotated troops through Bosnia and Herzegovina. The first production E-8C and a pre-production E-8C flew 36 operational sorties and more than 470 flight hours with a 100 % effectiveness rate. The wing declared initial operational capability 18 December 1997 after receiving the second production aircraft. Operation Allied Force saw Joint STARS in action again from February to June 1999 accumulating more than 1,000 flight hours and a 94.5 % mission-effectiveness rate in support of the U.S. lead Kosovo War.
On October 1, 2002, the 93d Air Control Wing (93 ACW) was "blended" with the 116th Bomb Wing in a ceremony at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia. The 116 BW was an Air National Guard wing equipped with the B-1B Lancer bomber at Robins AFB. As a result of a USAF reorganization of the B-1B force, all B-1Bs were assigned to active duty wings, resulting in the 116 BW lacking a current mission. Extensive efforts by the Georgia's governor and congressional delegation led to the resulting "blending", with the newly created wing designated as the 116th Air Control Wing (116 ACW). The 93 ACW was deactivated the same day. The 116 ACW constituted the first fully blended wing of active duty and Air National Guard airmen.
The 116 ACW has been heavily involved in both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, earning high marks for operational effectiveness and recently completing 10,000 combat hours. The wing took delivery of the 17th and final E-8C on 23 March 2005. The E-8C Joint STARS routinely supports various taskings of the Combined Force Command Korea during the North Korean winter exercise cycle and for the United Nations enforcing resolutions on Iraq. The twelfth production aircraft, outfitted with an upgraded operations and control subsystem, was delivered to the USAF on 5 November 2001.
On 3 September 2009, Loren B. Thompson of the Lexington Institute raised the question of why most of the JSTARS fleet was sitting idle instead of being used to track insurgents in Afghanistan. Thompson states that the JSTARS' radar has an inherent capacity to find what the Army calls 'dismounted' targets—insurgents walking around or placing roadside bombs. Mr. Thompson is known generally as a "conduit" for the views of military industrialists, including Northrop, who provide virtually all of his institute's funding.
Recent trials of JSTARS in Afghanistan are destined to develop tactics, techniques and procedures in tracking dismounted, moving groups of Taliban.