E-8 Joint STARS - Variants
The first two E-8A development airplanes were 20-year-old commercial Boeing 707s, whose conversion difficulties and questions of remaining service life pushed decision makers toward having subsequent aircraft be new E-8B airframes. The E-8A preproduction model was owned exclusively by Northrop Grumman Corp.
By late 1989 the cost of newly built E-8B airframes jumped because of a production gap between the last 707-based British Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft in 1991 and what would be the first production version Joint STARS two to three years later.
In November 1989, the Pentagon approved the re-baseline of the program to use the used 707 airframes in the E-8C configuration. The program office had examined other platform options, including the 757, 767, and MD-11, but these were all cost prohibitive and the change in configuration would have jeopardized the initial operational capability (IOC) date of 1997.
The E-8C is the production model owned by the Air Force. Approval for low-rate production of five E-8C aircraft was granted in 1993. This decision was supported by developmental testing of the aircraft, called the System Level Performance Verification (SLPV).
The Block 20 E-8C's contain commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology computers for operating the Joint STARS surveillance equipment. Each airplane uses 20 AlphaServer ES40CV systems from Compaq Computer Corporation, running the OpenVMS operating system. Eighteen of those systems will function as workstations, one as a central computer and one as a central backup. By using commercially available computer systems, Northrop Grumman was able to provide the customer with increased reliability, advanced technologies and increased processing power, all while achieving the original goal of this program -- to provide lower cost per aircraft. This may be the largest integrated application of COTS technology in a weapons system anywhere in the Air Force. Traditionally, equipment used in the military surveillance and combat environments has been highly specialized and highly customized. The fact that commercially available technology like Compaq's AlphaServer ES40CV systems can be integrated into those environments is a testament to the performance, reliability and functionality of Compaq's industry-leading technology. Application of COTS technology will provide improved maintainability for the Air Force.
The first E-8C flew in March 1994 and serves as the preproduction test-bed. The two E-8A test aircraft will be upgraded to C standard and will be the last to be delivered. The first E-8C was accepted by the 93rd Air Control Wing at Robins AFB, GA on 11 June 1996 and the second on 13 December 1996.
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