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Old 02-15-2018, 12:17 PM
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Arrow U.S. Air Force Drops Plan To Replace JSTARS Aircraft

U.S. Air Force Drops Plan To Replace JSTARS Aircraft
By Chris Pocock - February 15, 2018, 3:21 AM
RE: https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-n...stars-aircraft

The U.S. Air Force has dropped plans to replace the E-8C JSTARS aircraft with a new airborne platform. Three prime contractors for the airframe (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman) had submitted bids, and a winner was due to be named next month. But the service now says that a new platform might not be survivable in contested airspace, and that alternative means of gathering sensor data and doing battle management are becoming apparent.

Maj. Gen. John Pletcher, the USAF budget director, said the service would keep the existing aging Boeing 707-based JSTARS until the mid-2020s. Meanwhile, it would investigate how to “network current and new sensors from air, space, land, and sea, and fuse the information to create a more comprehensive battle management picture…coupled with an agile, resilient communications architecture.”

The USAF and NATO are currently both introducing variants of the Global Hawk high-altitude long-endurance UAV with advanced ground-radar imaging capabilities. This could partially replace the JSTARS capability. Pletcher did not mention this, but he did refer to the possibility of adding more sensors to the MQ-9 Reaper UAV or E-3 AWACS aircraft.

However, AIN believes that the main focus for the JSTARS replacement will now be on leveraging the ever-growing capabilities of space-based sensor and communications platforms. For instance, there have recently been tremendous technical advances by the providers of commercial satellite imagery (CSI). They can now provide the wide-area coverage that is a JSTARS speciality, in a much more timely manner.

At the recent DGI Europe conference and exhibition in London, one provider described plans to launch next year a constellation of radar-imaging satellites with short “revisit rates.” JSTARS is primarily a radar platform; Northrop Grumman and Raytheon were vying to provide a new radar for the new platform. Meanwhile, other CSI companies were offering EO and IR imagery at resolutions below 0.3cm with revisit rates of hours, rather than days.

An official from one of the prime contractors for the JSTARS replacement told AIN last week that the mission might be performed from space “provided that robust networking is in place.”

As for battle management, few if any other countries have adopted the U.S. philosophy that this is best done from an airborne platform.
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