Air Force seeks funding for J-STARS modernization

wcrenshaw@macon.comMarch 5, 2014 

Robert McMahon

The Air Force’s fiscal 2015 budget request seeks $100 million to begin modernization of the J-STARS fleet at Robins Air Force Base.

The request must be approved by Congress.

The J-STARS fleet is operated jointly by the 116th Air Control Wing and the 461st Air Control Wing. It flies the aging E-8C planes that have long been in need of engine replacement.

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon, president of the 21st Century Partnership, said the budget line doesn’t give specifics about the modernization program, which could involve moving to a new, smaller plane.

Nevertheless, McMahon said, having the funding placed in the budget request is good news for Robins.

“It shows that the Air Force values J-STARS,” McMahon said.

It’s too soon to tell whether a smaller plane might mean fewer personnel will be needed, he said.

An overview of the request states that the plan is to have a new J-STARS plane operational by 2022, with a fleet of 16 planes. According to the Air Force web site, there are 16 assigned EC-8s.

J-STARS, or Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, provides ground commanders with an array of information about the battlefield, including enemy movements. The unit has been heavily used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To help fund the modernization, J-STARS will drop E-8 test aircraft and put the platform on a “sunset profile,” the budget overview stated.

Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force chief of staff, said in September that new J-STARS planes were the fourth-highest acquisition priority.

Previously the Air Force had looked at replacing the engines on the E-8, but then concluded new planes would be more cost effective.

McMahon recently returned from a trip to Washington in which J-STARS was discussed with top Air Force leaders.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.

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