Editors Note: The E-8 Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) made its combat debut 25 years ago during Operation Desert Storm. With its powerful Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and other sensors, the E-8C has proven itself time and time again in a variety of disciplines to combatant commanders. As the airframes age, the time has come for suitable replacement.

The U.S. Air Force will award technology development contracts to Raytheon and Northrop Grumman for the radar subsystem of the new Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS). The sole-source awards require the contractors to mature their radar designs over an 18-month period.

In a January 26 public notice, the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Hanscom AFB, which is the contract authority, said the radar system acquisition will be limited to U.S. manufacturers “and market research has indicated the aforementioned companies are the only two capable of meeting government requirements.” The new contracts are for technical maturation and risk reduction of their proposed systems.

The 751st Electronic Systems Group's E-8C Joint STARS test aircraft, T-3, performs flight testing with JT8D-219 engines during a December deployment to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. In February, 633rd Electronic Systems Squadron officials awarded two major contract actions to continue the Joint STARS re-engining program's system design and development phase activities. (Courtesy photo)
The 751st Electronic Systems Group’s E-8C Joint STARS test aircraft, T-3, performs flight testing with JT8D-219 engines during a December deployment to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. In February, 633rd Electronic Systems Squadron officials awarded two major contract actions to continue the Joint STARS re-engining program’s system design and development phase activities. (Courtesy photo)

The ground surveillance radar is the main sensor of the JSTARS recapitalization program to replace the Air Force’s current fleet of 16 Boeing 707-based E-8C aircraft. Raytheon has said its proposal is based on the APS-154 Advanced Aerial Sensor, an electronically scanned radar it has developed for the U.S. Navy’s P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. Northrop Grumman said last year that it was considering Raytheon’s radar as well as its own system.

In August, the Air Force awarded pre-engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) contracts to industry teams led by Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing for the overall JStars battle management command and control system and radar platform. Northrop Grumman, the current E-8C contractor, is proposing a system based on the Gulfstream G550 business jet. Lockheed Martin proposes one based on the Bombardier Global business jet, and Boeing on the 737-700.

Last fall, the Pentagon’s Defense Acquisition Board withheld approving an expected “Milestone A” decision to advance the JStars effort to the next phase of technology maturation. The Air Force announced on December 11 that the approval had been granted, allowing the contractor teams to proceed with system functional reviews, preliminary design reviews and subsystem prototype demonstrations. The service said it was “on track” to release a draft request for proposals for the full EMD phase early this year.

Air Force Releases RFP for JSTARS Replacement

Read Next: Air Force Releases RFP for JSTARS Replacement

JSTARS recapitalization is absolutely necessary for the Air Force to continue providing a combat-proven capability to the warfighter,” the service stated at the time. “Sustainment of the legacy JSTARS is growing more difficult as the fleet ages, and sustainment costs are increasing beyond the Air Force’s ability to afford.”

The original article on Aviation International News can be viewed here.

(Featured Photo infographic courtesy of Northrop-Grumman)