The Air Force’s Joint STARS recapitalization effort is taking off as a Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass.,-led team moves toward replacing the aging fleet and beefing up its ability to detect threats, process data and distribute information.
The Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System is an airborne command and control/intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance asset, which supports attack operations and supplies air and ground commanders with targeting information.
The current system is comprised of a radar and computer systems, which display real-time battlefield information, and a 24-foot long antenna that is capable of detecting targets from long distances. Joint STARS, which first flew during Desert Storm in 1991 and has been a consistently used military asset for nearly two decades, operates on refurbished commercial 707 airframes.
But, the aging fleet must adapt to the times.
“The next generation JSTARS will be a more affordable solution and will increase our operational capability,” said Lt. Col. Michael Harm, the JSTARS Recapitalization program manager. “More advanced communication tools are needed for success in today’s evolving battlefield.”
Born out of necessity, the recapitalization effort sprung from a 2011 study that examined options for conducting the JSTARS mission most effectively and efficiently going forward. It resulted in a recommendation to deliver an advanced radar and on-board computer system on a significantly smaller, more efficient business jet class airframe.
Early work on the effort is already under way and is expected to accelerate in fiscal year 2015, if Congress authorizes the approximately $73 million allotted for the program in the president’s budget.
Currently, the recapitalization is in its infancy and the Hanscom AFB team is conducting risk reduction studies and market research for the aircraft, radar and communications. During this phase, the Air Force plans on using existing contracts to define requirements, support demos and issue preliminary designs.
This is potentially good news for small businesses.
“By leveraging the use of existing contracts, it will lead to more opportunities for small businesses to participate in both the acquisition and sustainment of the new fleet,” Harm said. “One of our goals is to develop modular, scalable subsystems using an open systems architecture approach to enable rapid improvements in the future.”
Under this premise, the Air Force hopes to promote competition, enabling new capabilities to be added quicker and more affordably. As the next generation fleet comes online, the service intends to fully retire the remaining aging aircraft.
With a tentative initial operational capability slated for the first quarter of fiscal 2022 and a potential full operational capability scheduled for fiscal 2025, Air Force officials have made their modernization efforts clear.
“Meeting our goal to deliver the Joint STARS mission area capability on a modern, more efficient airframe and reduce lifecycle costs will increase the capacity to support combatant commands, carrying on the legacy of Joint STARS,” Harm said. “The JSTARS recapitalization is an investment in our future.”