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E-8 Joint STARS - Background

The Joint STARS program began as the result of the consolidation of separate Army and Air Force MTI programs. The Air Force was pursuing a system known as Pave Mover that provided MTI and SAR surveillance, and included a weapons guidance mode that could guide tactical aircraft or missiles to targets. The Pave Mover program was preparing to enter full scale development before the consolidation. The Army had built a system called SOTAS (Stand-Off Target Acquisition System), a helicopter-based, MTI-only system that had run into cost and technical problems during full scale development. In 1982, the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering (USDRE) combined the SOTAS and Pave Mover efforts into a joint program, later designated Joint STARS. The Air Force's Electronic Systems Division (ESD) was designated as the lead service for the program.

From 1982-1984, the services, OSD, and Congress wrestled over the development of requirements for the joint program, as well as the appropriate platform for the sensor. At the time, one option under active consideration was a two-phased program in which the radar would initially be deployed on ten conventional aircraft, with subsequent production focused on a stealth platform derived from the TACIT BLUE test aircraft. In May 1984, the Chiefs of Staff of the Air Force and Army made the final decision to put the Joint STARS radar on a 707 platform and include both MTI, SAR, and weapons guidance capabilities. In September 1985, the Full Scale Development contract for the system was awarded to Grumman Aerospace Company, with the radar development portion being subcontracted to Norden Systems. The contract included the production of two developmental Joint STARS aircraft with a plan for 10 production aircraft, and support for developmental testing and a European Field Test Demonstration.

During 1986 and 1987, the program further defined the Joint STARS system through multiple Preliminary Design Reviews and Critical Design Reviews. In addition, the Grumman personnel involved in Joint STARS relocated to a new plant in Melbourne, Florida.

In April 1988, Grumman was able to put together an E-8A Joint STARS prototype on the first rebuilt Boeing 707 and complete a test flight without the radar sensor. The Norden radar was later integrated onto the airplane, and the first full test flight using the radar occurred in December 1988.

In April 1988, the Defense Acquisition Board made major program changes. It increased the number of E-8 aircraft to be built to 22 from the 10 originally planned, and approved a program plan to use new Boeing 707 aircraft [the E-8B] instead of used platforms.

Although still under development, two aircraft deployed in 1991 to participate in Desert Storm. Joint STARS was praised for tracking mobile Iraqi forces, including tanks and Scud missiles. The crew flew 49 combat sorties accumulating more than 500 combat hours. Two particular examples are best remembered from Joint STARS' missions in the Gulf War. First, Joint STARS provided surveillance support of the battlefield during the battle for the town of Khafji. Joint STARS detected a follow-on force of 80 Iraqi vehicles heading toward Khafji. This follow-on force was engaged and stopped by tactical airpower and the Marine ground commanders knew that additional Iraqi forces would not enter the battle. The second example was the Joint STARS surveillance of the Iraqi retreat from Kuwait City. Joint STARS provided real-time information of the retreat to the air operations center. This information allowed commanders to use tactical airpower to interdict and destroy the slow-moving Iraqi mechanized columns as they used the roads out of Kuwait City.

After the Gulf War, the Senate pushed to accelerate the production schedule of Joint STARS. The SASC wanted to authorize the production of six aircraft by 1994 (The Air Force plan was for three aircraft by 1994.). The Air Force felt that the effort in the Gulf War had not alleviated the need for operational testing and further enhancements, but rather illuminated areas that needed more attention in development. One problem was that the production configuration for Joint STARS was not used in the Gulf War. In November 1990, the Air Force had awarded a follow-on full scale development contract for a third developmental aircraft in the full production configuration. This configuration included system enhancements that the two aircraft deployed to the Gulf did not have.

Approval was also granted in 1993 for the low-rate production of 12 MGSMs. Prior to the decision, a Limited User Test of the MGSM was conducted. The MGSMs were subsequently fielded with contingency forces and used as training equipment. Currently, the Army has no plans to acquire additional MGSMs.

The Army approved the low-rate production of 10 LGSMs following a Force Developmental Test and Evaluation (FDT&E) that was conducted in August and September 1994. An IOT&E was tentatively scheduled for 1997 to support a FSD decision for the CGS.

The Joint STARS aircraft was scheduled to begin its initial operational test and evaluation--referred to as the Joint STARS multi-service operational test and evaluation --in November 1995. That testing was delayed and then changed because of the deployment of Joint STARS assets to the European theater to support Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia. The Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC) and the U.S. Army Operational Test and Evaluation Command conducted a combined development and operational test of Joint STARS from July through September 1995 and an operational evaluation of the system during Operation Joint Endeavor from January through March 1996.

From December 1995 to March 1996 a testbed E-8A and a production E-8C showed their supported the NATO peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Operation Joint Endeavor proved Joint STARS is effective despite adverse weather conditions and rough terrain. Crews flew 95 consecutive operational sorties and more than 1,000 flight hours with a 98 percent mission effectiveness rate.

Joint STARS returned to support Operation Joint Endeavor in October 1996 when the first production E-8C from the 93rd Air Control Wing and a testbed E-8C from Northrop Grumman Corp. deployed to Germany. As NATO rotated troops stationed in Bosnia-Herzegovina, crews flew 36 operational sorties in November and December for more than 470 flight hours. The second production aircraft joined the first after it was delivered to the Air Force in December.

On September 25, 1996, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology signed an acquisition decision memorandum approving the Joint STARS program's entry into full-rate production with a total planned quantity of 19 aircraft. But the JSTAR's performance during its combined development and operational test and the operational evaluation done in Bosnia did not support a decision to commit the system to full-rate production. The system's operational effectiveness and suitability were not demonstrated during the operational testing.

The system did not meet its overall suitability requirements during Operation Joint Endeavor. The OD Director of Operational Test and Evaluation stated that:

"In the current configuration, the [Joint STARS] aircraft has not demonstrated the ability to operate at the required maximum altitude; adequate tactics, techniques, or procedures to integrate [Joint STARS] into operational theaters have not been developed; [Joint STARS] exceeded the break rate and failed the mission reliability rate during [Operation Joint Endeavor]. During [Operation Joint Endeavor], [Joint STARS] did not achieve the effective time-on-station requirement."

DOT&E also noted that the limited power of the engines "made it difficult to reach the aircraft's normal operating altitude of 36,000 feet, much less the 42,000 feet maximum altitude it is required to reach." It further reported that during Operation Joint Endeavor, the aircraft required approximately 11,000 feet of runway when taking off with 140,000 pounds of fuel and concluded that "this may pose a significant challenge to operational commanders because the NATO standard runway length is 8,000 feet."

The degree of contractor involvement required during the operational evaluation indicatedincreased program risk and made the reported Joint STARS performance appear better than it would have otherwise. Joint STARS failed to meet its maintainability criteria during an operation less demanding than combat, even with such significant contractor involvement beyond that planned for in combat.

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Page last modified: 28-07-2011 00:49:48 ZULU