J-STARS in trouble without new engines, says retiring commander

tday@macon.comJuly 14, 2010 

Maj. Gen. Scott A. Hammond, commander of the Georgia Air National Guard, warned that the future of the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft would be in doubt without new engines.

The Air Force’s fleet of J-STARS aircraft is operated by the 116th Air Control Wing at Robins Air Force Base, a blended unit of Air National Guard and active duty troops. The Air Force’s 17 J-STARS aircraft at Robins fly with engines that are more than 40 years old.

Hammond will turn over command of the Georgia Air National Guard later this month.

“There is a long-term concern about the viability of the weapon system itself,” Hammond said of the J-STARS aircraft. “We’ve reached a point now where we’re either going to have to get either new or remanufactured engines on these airframes or else they will absolutely be a legacy airframe that won’t be with us for too much longer.”

The fiscal year 2010 Department of Defense budget includes funds for eight J-STARS engines. “That’s two aircraft,” said Lt. Col. Bruce Barbeau, the 116th’s director of plans and programs, pointing out that each aircraft needs four new engines.

Hammond is set to retire from the Air Force on July 24 after he relinquishes command of the Georgia Air National Guard to Brig. Gen. Thomas Moore in a ceremony at the Museum of Aviation at Robins.

The current Georgia Air National Guard commander and the incoming commander participated in a similar ceremony last week, when Moore turned over command of the 116th ACW. Hammond spoke briefly during the change of command ceremony. The 116th ACW will likely split later this year, separating the guardsmen and active duty personnel.

Hammond blamed bureaucratic entanglements for forcing the end of the blended structure of the unit. For example, Air National Guard officers do not have the authority to legally discipline junior airmen. However, Hammond stressed that the unit’s guard and active duty airmen will continue to cooperate with one another after the split.

“We’ve already made 90 percent of the change,” Hammond said. “The only thing left to do right now is to just bring in a small senior staff of active duty headquarters personnel to provide a parallel senior-wing leadership.”

Hammond also expressed confidence that the Air Force’s C-27J training operations would remain at Robins, though he warned it will not be without a fight. Robins opened a $1.8 million training facility for crews to learn to fly the C-27J aircraft in December, but a cloud of uncertainty has hung over the facility since it opened.

“The reality is that other states will be in competition for that mission,” Hammond said. “We were looking at around a five-year window ... given the fact that it’s been in place for a year now, we would expect that in the next year or two, that there will be some definitive way forward.”

To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.

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