Congress Not Ready to Dump JSTARS

NGAUS Washington Report
March 13, 2018

The Air Force budget proposal for fiscal 2019 cancels the JSTARS recapitalization program, but Congress is not quite ready to pull the plug on the mission that gives commanders on the ground a valuable bird’s-eye perspective on the battlefield.

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on tactical air and land forces, said last week he will “try to find the balance of funding taxis and Ubers,” according to Defense News.

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He means the service may end up performing the mission with two types of technology.

The surveillance mission, which is flown by the 116th Air Control Wing of the Georgia Air National Guard, will continue with JSTARS through 2023. But the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft are 50 years old and the wing has been meeting its mission requirements while juggling multiple aircraft in the maintenance depot.

For that reason, the Air Force wants to stop the recapitalization plan in favor of a network of systems that would perform the same mission. Defense News called it “a system-of-systems approach that links existing platforms for targeting and command and control.”

NGAUS favors maintaining the JSTARS mission, said Matt Pincus, the association’s deputy legislative director. He called it an important mission for troops on the ground who like to have the eyes above them providing a big picture.

“What we need to do is keep funding the JSTARS recap while we work toward new technology because there is not alternative in place at this time,” he said.

Turner said his subcommittee would “try to find the balance of funding” between the JSTARS recap and the Air Force’s systems-of-systems plan. He compared it to taxis and Ubers sharing the streets.

“We have to have a smorgasbord of capabilities,” he said at the conference. “And that’s what we’re going to work towards [with the Air Force]. If there is a capability that is absolutely essential, we are going to make sure it is preserved.”

But the Air Force chief of staff is convinced the service is on the right track.

“The threat has advanced and there’s a . . . certain range at which the Joint Stars can no longer perform its function because it’s held too far outside of its operating window,” said Gen. David L. Goldfein in an interview with Defense News a couple days after the conference. “And so while the threat has changed, we’ve got to change.”

He said, however, that the Air Force is happy to discuss options with lawmakers.

“We actually are looking forward to this conversation and including Congress, with their oversight responsibilities, in the path we take going forward,” he said.