JSTARS deployed to Desert Shield
Dec. 17, 1990
On December 17, 1990, U.S. Central Command Commander Gen. Norman Schwartzkopf requested the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System, or JSTARS, for Operations Desert Shield/Storm. Two were sent, along with five ground station modules.
Just four months earlier, JSTARS was still in its testing phase. There were concerns about its immaturity and supportability to operate in a theater of war.
In the fall of 1990, the JSTARS was sent to Europe for an operational field deployment, tasked with locating three 25-vehicle convoys moving out of the Hohenfels Training Area at night, and targeting them for the Apache brigade. The JSTARS passed the test, and a briefing team of Army and Air Force program and system managers was dispatched to Saudi Arabia to present a decision brief to Schwarzkopf. They briefed him on Dec. 16, and the very next day, the CENTCOM commander requested deployment of the system, with an operational date no later than Jan. 15, 1991.
In his article “Joint STARS Goes to War,” (“Field Artillery,” February 1992), Col. Martin Kleiner describes how JSTARS flew its first mission on Jan. 14, 1991. It started as an engineering test flight to determine what the system could produce, but quickly became an eight-hour intelligence-gathering mission, the first of 49 consecutive, successful missions which included tracking and targeting fixed and mobile enemy forces and Scud missile launchers.
Kleiner argues that the JSTARS system contributed significantly to the war effort in the first Gulf War. But it didn’t end there.
JSTARS was not only a battle-ready system right from the beginning; it represented something even bigger. In 1999, Maj. Gen. Robert Noonan, who was commanding U.S. Army U.S. Intelligence and Security Command at the time, took a ride in one of the JSTARS under his command. He got a view of the operational capability of JSTARS in the air, and watched the integration of the air-to-ground radar with the Army common ground station. He said, “This integration of Army operations and intelligence Soldiers with Air Force targeteers and battle management officers represents the cutting edge of joint warfighting.” (“The Fort Huachuca Scout,” March 4, 1999).
The system is still in use today, and it is the only airborne platform in operation that can maintain real-time surveillance over a corps-sized area of the battlefield.
“This Week in History” is an ongoing feature on the Command History Office website. Those with Army knowledge Online access, can go to their site, https://ikn.army.mil/apps/mi_history/.