Politics & Government

Air Force secretary explains change in Robins mission

The top civilian in the Air Force was at Robins on Wednesday and explained that new technologies prompted a change in one of its biggest missions.

Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson toured the base Tuesday, including a visit to the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or J-STARS. The unit is expected to fly for a few more years before the mission will be taken over by the Advanced Battle Management System to be based at Robins.

It was under Wilson’s leadership that the Air Force last year abandoned a plan to buy new planes for J-STARS and shift to a new system that will combine varying technologies to perform the task of tracking enemy movements on the battlefield.

Before leaving the base Wednesday, Wilson met briefly with media and answered questions about the transition of J-STARS. She said she worked with J-STARS as a staff member during its deployment in the first Gulf War, and is familiar with its capabilities.

But she said new technologies can be combined to perform the mission more effectively, particularly when facing a foe with advanced air defenses such as Russia or China.

She noted that when J-STARS was developed, there was no email, internet or cell phones.

“Things didn’t connect to each other,” she said. “We have technologies today that allow much more connection. Where we are going with Advanced Battle Management is to be able to connect more sensors from space, air, manned, unmanned, ground, surface and the sea to be able to integrate a picture.”

She also said that once the transition is complete, the new system is expected to employ a similar number of people at Robins as J-STARS, including active-duty and guard personnel. When including support personnel, J-STARS is estimated to account for approximately 3,000 jobs at Robins.

J-STARS flies over enemy territory and provides ground commanders with information on enemy movements. Army personnel fly with J-STARS and directly communicate with troops on the ground. J-STARS has been heavily used in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. It is also used in drug interdiction efforts.

Wilson, who was making her first visit to Robins, addressed findings of an investigation into the crash of a KC-130 that killed 16 service members. The investigation blamed the crash on corrosion on a propeller blade that should have been fixed when the blade was at Robins for overhaul. She said the Air Force is close to certifying a new process for servicing propellers to prevent a similar accident in the future.

She said there are new technologies, including laser technology being used at Robins, that will improve the ability for maintainers to identify and remove corrosion.