By John A. Tirpak, Air Force Magazine
/ Published September 26, 2013
9/23/2013 -- The Air Force will replace, rather than upgrade, the E-8C JSTARS fleet, said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh and other senior Air Force leaders at AFA's Air and Space Conference last week.
"We think the first thing we need to do is recapitalize JSTARS," following the Air Force's top three acquisition priorities--the F-35 strike fighter, KC-46A tanker, and Long Range Strike Bomber, said Welsh in a press briefing on Sept. 18 at the conference in National Harbor, Md.
The Air Force needs "ground moving-target indications. That intelligence has been phenomenally successful; all the combatant commanders want it," he said.
Welsh said the Air Force is "building a plan" for how to provide GMTI "at the best cost over time." After a GMTI analysis of alternatives, the Air Force said its "preference" was to replace the E-8s, but Welsh's comments seem definitive that a service life upgrade is off the table.
Other senior service officials told the Daily Report that the E-8C isn't cost-effective to update. "We got them old," said one official, noting that the E-8s are based on well-used commercial 707 platforms. Though the Air Force had hoped these airframes would have long service lives, the platforms' depot track record and the need to re-engine the fleet has made the E-8 less competitive with alternatives. Also, their electronics need a broad refresh, and new technology could make it possible to put the JSTARS capability on a significantly smaller and more efficient airframe.