DoD likely to kill Air Force’s $7 billion JSTARS recap, says report

The Air Force’s delayed multibillion-dollar program to replace its aging E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) fleet may finally be dead. The value of the program had been criticized by some service officials, including Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in addition to also the head of Air Combat Command, General Mike Holmes.

The publication Defense News reported Saturday which the Pentagon plans to kill the JSTARS recapitalization program in its fiscal 2019 budget submission, in addition to also instead push for “a system-of-systems which will link together existing platforms to track ground targets in addition to also do command in addition to also control.” The publication cited sources familiar with the 2019 budget request, which is actually likely to be released Monday.

The lucrative JSTARS recap competition, which has essentially been on hold since September, pits teams by three companies against each some other — Northrop Grumman (the incumbent), Boeing in addition to also Lockheed Martin. The engineering in addition to also manufacturing development contract for the next-generation JSTARS is actually worth about $6.9 billion.

The Air Force didn’t respond to a request by CNBC for comment.

In November, Secretary Wilson said a completely new JSTARS when operational might likely meet “less than one percent” of the requirements for combatant commanders.

Also in November, Holmes — a four-star general — raised questions about the value of a completely new JSTARS in contested airspace.

“How will we fight in addition to also how will we close the kill chain in a highly contested environment in a world we live in at which point, where, if war kicked off in northern Europe, the NATO soldiers in addition to also coalition soldiers might already be underneath which umbrella provided by an integrated air defense?” Holmes said. “Our conclusion is actually, which none of those systems which were fielded at which point, including our current JSTARS or a replacement JSTARS, might give us the capability to do which.”

Still, Congress has made efforts to retain the JSTARS recap program, including funding which from the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed by President Donald Trump in December.

The fiscal 2018 NDAA authorized $700 billion in defense spending – including more than $400 million for the JSTARS recap in addition to also about $37 million to service the existing legacy fleet.

The Trump administration is actually expected Monday to propose a $716 billion defense budget for fiscal 2019, or a 7 percent increase by the previous year request. The Pentagon’s base budget for fiscal 2019 is actually likely to be about $597 billion.

The current JSTARS plane is actually based on a Boeing 707-300 airframe which Northrop modified with radar in addition to also electronic equipment to track enemy ground vehicles in addition to also collect intelligence in addition to also surveillance for airstrikes.

The first E-8C JSTARS were used in 1991 during the first Gulf War under President George H.W. Bush, in addition to also have bene used more recently to track Islamic State terrorists in Iraq in addition to also Syria. There have been reports of maintenance problems with the aging fleet of 16 planes, including metal fatigue in components.

Defense News noted which each of the companies vying to become prime contractors on the completely new JSTARS have already “invested millions of dollars of their own funds to hone their designs in addition to also were awaiting source selection by the government.”

Last month, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg said during the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call which the defense giant’s “investment supports the priority we have placed in capturing future franchise programs,” in addition to also he identified the “JSTARS recapitalization” as one of several “important opportunities.”

Even so, the Pentagon may opt to go that has a drone-based surveillance system which also combines additional capabilities by satellite systems. Regardless, unmanned aircraft could be potentially vulnerable to enemy defenses.

Read the full story by Defense News here.

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