Defense bill language defends J-STARS

Airmen walk in front of a J-STARS E-8C plane at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins.
Airmen walk in front of a J-STARS E-8C plane at Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins. wcrenshaw@macon.com

The final version of the National Defense Authorization Act to be voted on by the U.S. Senate and House includes strong language in support of the J-STARS mission at Robins Air Force Base.

A conference committee of Senate and House members have met to reconcile differences between versions of the bill that each has passed. The two bodies will now vote on the final version, which is typically approved.

Language in that version released Thursday does not prohibit the Air Force from seeking alternatives to J-STARS, but it sends a strong message of support for the mission. Although the Air Force has spent $265 million on a program to buy new planes for J-STARS, word came in September that the Air Force is considering other alternatives.

“The conferees are concerned by the Air Force’s reassessment of its current, validated JSTARS recapitalization program,” the bill states. “The acquisition program is currently in source selection and reconsideration at this late stage injects disruption and uncertainty into the process of updating and enhancing a vital combat capability that Congress has repeatedly urged the Air Force to accelerate. The conferees do not currently understand what has changed to refute the written and oral testimony the current commander of Air Combat Command and the current chief of staff of the Air Force have given to Congress over the last two years.”

The bill also prohibits any funds being used to retire J-STARS aircraft. J-STARS, or Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, gives ground commanders an overhead view of the battlefield and has been heavily used in the global war on terror.

The J-STARS provisions were put in the bill by U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., who is on the Armed Services Committee and was part of the conference committee.

“The sharp turn away from the current recap plan conflicts with everything I’ve heard from the Air Force and combatant commanders,” Perdue said in a release. “If the Air Force changes their mind, they’ll need to answer some serious questions about how to meet this need and any gaps we’ll see.”

The bill also authorizes $417 million in the coming fiscal year toward the J-STARS replacement program.

Dan Rhoades, director of strategy for the 21st Century Partnership, said the J-STARS language in the bill is important, even though it doesn’t prohibit a change of course.

“They made it clear they want the Air Force to continue with the recapitalization,” he said.

Wayne Crenshaw: 478-256-9725, @WayneCrenshaw1