C4iSR: Air

Northrop Grumman, USAF develop plan to keep E-8C JSTARS flying through 2030

01 September 2017
One of the US Air Force's E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft takes flight in an undated photo. The USAF and prime contractor Northrop Grumman developed a roadmap to maintain relevance for the E-8C until its successor aircraft is fielded. Source: Northrop Grumman

Key Points

  • Northrop Grumman and the US Air Force have developed a strategy to fly E-8Cs through 2030
  • JSTARS recapitalisation is one of the service's top priorities, but the programme has been repeatedly delayed

Northrop Grumman and the US Air Force (USAF) are developing a roadmap to keep the service's 16 E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft flying through 2030, and to support a transition to JSTARS recapitalisation aircraft.

Northrop Grumman will undertake upgrades as part of the project. Bryan Lima, Northrop Grumman programme director lead for manned command, control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C2ISR), told reporters on 29 August that the company will replace or upgrade the E-8C's existing central computers. Company spokesperson Dianne Baumert-Moyik confirmed on 31 August that the work will upgrade the computers to fifth-generation equipment.

Lima added that the USAF has additionally requested Northrop Grumman to add new capability for greater target detection on smaller objects, with the company accordingly continuing work to refine the ability of the aircraft's radar to detect increasing emerging threats. Lima declined to provide specifics on improvements to the radar.

In addition, Lima said Northrop Grumman is planning to upgrade the fleet's avionics system to support global air-traffic management directives. When queried for details on the roadmap, Northrop Grumman deferred to Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts, whose public affairs department declined to answer a request for comment on 31 August.

Concurrent to executing the E-8C sustainment roadmap, Lima said Northrop Grumman continues to invest in battle management command and control (BMC2) technologies that can be brought to the current JSTARS fleet and future JSTARS recapitalisation aircraft. According to Lima, company labs are currently running a fully open mission system (OMS) or OMS-compliant BMC2 capability, and are addressing emerging cyber threats while improving operator mission effectiveness through machine-decision aids.

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