Air Platforms

Boeing pushes 737 as JSTARS replacement for the USAF

17 May 2017
An artist's impression of a Boeing 737 configured as a replacement for the US Air Force's ageing E-8C JSTARS surveillance fleet. Source: Boeing

Boeing is pushing its commercial 737 airliner as a solution for the US Air Force's (USAF's) Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) recapitalisation effort, ahead of an expected service platform decision later this year.

Speaking at the site of the company's Renton production facility near Seattle, Jamie Burgess, Vice-President and Program Manager for Boeing Military Aircraft's (BMA's) Mobility Surveillance and Engagement division, said that the 737 would offer the USAF all that it needs in a replacement for the ageing Northrop Grumman E-8C JSTARS in terms of size and future growth potential.

"The size of the 737 is about right for a [command and control] C2 mission crew that would be spending upwards of 12 hours on an aircraft. It also offers tremendous growth potential in terms of power, size, weight, cooling, and aircraft performance. We think the 737-700 is the right solution for the air force's [C2 and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] C2ISR recapitalisation," Burgess said on 16 May.

The USAF currently fields 16 E-8C JSTARS platforms that it first received in the early 1990s. These are used for airborne battle management, C2, and air-to-ground ISR. The primary mission of the E-8C is to locate, classify, and track moving and stationary ground targets to support strike operations by air and ground forces.

Based on the Boeing 707 airframe, the E-8C utilises an airframe that suffers from low availability rates and which costs more than USD20,000 per hour to operate. As such, it is increasingly becoming unsustainable as a viable platform. With the USAF looking for a replacement, there are currently a number of companies vying for the effort with most offering business jet-based solutions.

For Burgess, the case for the 737 is clear with 8,000 aircraft so far delivered and 4,000 on order for commercial operators, and with military derivatives already in service in the form of the C-40 Clipper liaison aircraft; the P-8A Poseidon maritime multimission aircraft; and the E-737 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft.

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