Air Force Won’t Replace JSTARS Fleet

It looks like the Air Force can’t afford to replace it’s fleet of E-8 Joint Surveillance Targeting and Attack Radar System  (JSTARS) jets that are based on 40-year old Boeing 707s. (To be fair, the jets have been completely refurbished, as JSTARS prime contractor-Northrop Grumman will remind anyone who points out the ex-airliners’ age)

The air service has been looking at whether to replace or upgrade the E-8s for years now and it has finally come to the conclusion that it needs to replace the ground-scanning radar jets with a mix of business jet-based spy planes and RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs. There’s just one problem — money.

Here’s what Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 20.

“The reality is there is not enough space to undertake a new start business-class ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] platform,” said the four-star. “We simply don’t have the resources.”

In the meantime, the Air Force will have to make do with the existing airplanes. No word on what will happen with the stalled effort to replace the jets ancient JT3D engines that burn so much fuel taking off from hot Middle Eastern bases that they have to refuel from a waiting tanker before they can begin their missions.

I’d also like to know if any of the technology that Boeing was developing for its P-8 Poseidon-based replacement for the E-8 will eventually make it onto the JSTARS.

With the JSTARS fleet likely to remain in service for the foreseeable future, lets hope the Air Force doesn’t lose anymore of them, like it did this one.

Via Flight.


32 Comments on "Air Force Won’t Replace JSTARS Fleet"

  1. So, the E-8 won't get replaced by the cancelled RQ-4 Reaper. Pity. Boeing has "proposed" developing a P-8 for the job, but they're already spending a lot on their own programs, and if the gov't won't be paying for the replacement, there isn't much incentive for them. A report from stated that they planned to refurbish the E-8's to last another 40-50 years, starting with those awful fuel-gulping engines, but the plan hasn't been given the full go-ahead yet. There is a testbed E-8 that was recosntructed with the proposed modifications, and it works well. Question is will the Air Force jump on board? The re-up will cost "…$2.7 billion: $900M re-engining, $500M for new APY-7 receiver and exciters, $1 billion for a cheek array, $300M for avionics upgrade and battle management improvements."

  2. Why not develop a smaller version of JSTARS on a Boeing 737, 777 or 757. Use the existing Boeing fleet, just transfer the hardware from E-8 to either the 737, 777 or 757

  3. Shame. I'm sure the guys flying those would love to fly an armed P-8 variant.

  4. oh dont you worry folks, the airforce will find a way to get everything it wants.

    meanwhile the marines, navy, army and well… the rest of "us" will make room in our budgets.

  5. I dont see the need t replace the E-8. The 707 based planes where made in the 80s and have much lower flying hours than the KC-135 which will fly for many years to come as well. Again some dumb General has to have everything new well sorry not going to happen anytime soon.

    The E-8 is just fine for this decade.

  6. If the intended replacement options include a business jet why not buy the RAF's Sentinel R1's. They are almost new, will be retired after the pullout from Afghanistan in 2014, and if the Harrier deal is anything to go by dirt cheap.

  7. Re-engining will only go so far. I do not see operating a 707 based aircraft even with modifications as economically viable in about 10 years. The 707 has been out of production for a while and sooner or later it is going to become prohibitively expensive to buy parts for these aircraft

  8. Why don’t they scrap the KC-135r’s And use their engines on the j-stars. They are relatively modern turbofans and are reasonably fuel efficient. It will buy the j-stars another 15 to 20 years of service until money comes about to build a suitable replacement. Come on guys, this is not rocket science.

  9. Invest, mass produce green energy while exploring and extracting oil resources. Use Portland, Oragon on the economics strategy on the energy efficiency and revenue creation.

  10. Well Well Fighter Fans. There is a Air force beyond the F-22. While they keep crying about "What if Air combats, " Other needs go un met.

  11. If the DOD is interested in saving money it should convert some of the Air Force Bases which are remotely located to nuclear power. Not all places are sunny all the time and not all places have wind all the time.

    Using alternative sources of energy are only good where they make either economic or national security sense.

  12. I wonder if Gen Schwartz missed the meeting where it was decided to pay the Afghan government $4.1 Billion a year for the next 10 years for their military and police needs? I believe that money should be appropriated to our military forces and to the VA for Veterans. IF we have this apparent wealth available to use for the Afghans; WHY don't we have money for our very much needed uses? Guess it falls under the statement "disregard the man behind the curtain" from the "Wizard Of Oz".

  13. Maybe if Northrop/Grumman and the other contractors would stop over charging and stop the exec. bonuses they could aford a replacement

  14. First no foreign aircraft! Next the options in Boeings commercial fleet, 737, 757, 767 would be good choices for next gen aircraft, they are proven platforms that should be good for the next fifty years, that KC- 135, was retired early so their engines could be used on the special purpose aircraft like JSTAR , just no engines available or parts to repair them, reengining them with CFM or other new generation engines that they were not designed for poses another set of problems that could cause the aircraft to be retired in a very short time after reengining, I would say go new, the fuel savings would make them cost competitive with the old, same cost saving reasons they retired the 707's, fuel, parts and a two man crew.

  15. No worry people war make evry thing right . Hear the drums?

  16. voteforanybodyelse | March 27, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Reply

    P.S. Before I come under attack for whining just for myself, I was in the service, and was honorably discharged after my time was up, I get zero benefits from the government, and want zero from the government, however, I do want either some, or more for my brother and sister vets, either present, or past, make no difference, they all deserve more from this country, as many paid the ultimate price and are laying in the cemetary, but all veterans were prepared to do the same, we owe them much, but give them little.

  17. Reply to voteforanybodyelse: You are so right..Makes me sick when i see OUR Military going with out the things they need..! My family has had 6 members in the Army over the years..Including an Uncle that was a Doughboy..! and several others in other branches of the service..! But, Back in the GOOD old days they were better provided for ..Now the Military is going With out even getting the wages they deserve for putting their lives on the line for us..! Let alone they Supplies they need..! Pathetic situation..! Makes me just fume every time i think about it..!! I just keep Praying for them ..! God be with them all..!! USABlondie13

  18. Hello
    Money — Money — Money. No one has it. Keep a sharp eye on the JSTARS equipment (not its present airframes) and program necessary EQUIPMENT upgrades for the time when money is no longer available to fund airframes; the JSTARS gear can be transferred to commercial fleet aircraft ala the CRAF fleet model from the past.

  19. It's a shame we have to make cuts to our defense department,why not cut the congressmens and semotors pay in half,they do anything anyway……….

  20. I work on the Rivet Joint RC-135 which works a lot with the JSTARs and both aircrafts save a lot of groundpounders lives. Upgrading this aircraft would be a big benefit to the troops on the ground. Americans and our allies.

  21. Personally, even though you would lose flight crew, I would replace the current system with an manned aircraft without the mission crew that would be capable of performing the same mission, but without the potential of losing 18 or more mission crew members to a crash. a global hawk or similar not an E-8 or E-10 system.

  22. Has anybody heard of the capabilities of UAVs to do the J-Star job?

  23. Personally, I would replace the current system with an manned aircraft without the mission crew that would be capable of performing the same mission, but without the potential of losing 35 or so crew members to a crash. not an E-8 or E-10 system.

  24. Think of it as a 1957 Chevy. Rebuild it and put some bling and it would be one cool ride.
    The planes don't need replacing. The politicians in the district where the planes would be built want them built because of the revenue prospects and of course the military wants some new toys.

  25. Saying these were "Totally refurbished" is an outright lie. One plane was refurbed to "zero hours" and the cost was so high that future planes came off the line with as high as 66,000 hours and just 15% of airframe/wing life remaining. The planes would arrive at Robins AFB, go thru inspection and have hundreds of discrepancies, but they were delivered on time, so NG got a bonus. Even at th IOC ceremony in 1997 the retired GO who led the team to select used 707s (they did build one E-8B off a new 707 that was never completed) apologized to the entire audience. Guess what, at that same dinner the guys from NG were sitting low in their seats–but not to worry–they fleeced the taxpayer well.

  26. Hilarious… the 707-300 airframe that is overworked…. So inefficient it needs to refuel before going on station…. 50-60K hours on the airframes….
    So what about the AWACS?
    Or better yet the Rivet Joint?
    all in the same boat as the JSTARS… or at least the RJ is….

    How about we nip this in the butt and actually pay attention to someone else for a change?
    Brazil: ERJ-145 based AEW and SIGINT platforms.
    Israel: G550 based AEW and SIGINT platforms
    Australia: B737 AEW

    I think the better answer is to move our fleets to a smaller aircraft that is more capable. Reduce airframes, manpower and operating costs, increase quality within the Air Force by firing the idiots. I am sick and tired of D-Bag leadership.

  27. Doug Rodrigues | March 31, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Reply

    Why not just replace the engines?

  28. Dear Air force, I have many toys in my house. If you want to not given your self up be cheerful to you. Don't ever given your self up just be happy and take my beanie babies and I will set you go and help people. We are the teamwork together.

  29. I’m not sure exactly why but this site is loading extremely slow
    for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a problem on my end?
    I’ll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

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