JSTARS goes to Korea

I’m not a betting man, but I’d be happy to offer a wager today. Somewhere inside Northrop Grumman, someone this morning is busy updating briefing charts that make the case for re-engining and upgrading the sensor on the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS).

That’s because various South Korean and British press outlets are reporting that the US Air Force has deployed the E-8C to the peninsula amidst rising tensions.

Northrop’s latest press brief on JSTARS at the Air Force Association’s annual convention in September focused on the aircraft’s role in Afghanistan. Adapting the E–8C to the rigors of irregular warfare was always a challenge. How can a radar system, for example, tell the difference between an insurgent on a hillside and a mountain goat? Can a “moving target” sensor see the target at all if it is stationary? But Northrop executives assured us that the E-8C could be useful. A radar operator knows a pack of stationary blobs in a field are probably cows, Northrop explained, but several blobs moving quickly toward a friendly location are probably enemies. The E-8C could then cue another airborne platform with a camera to move in closer and verify the identity of the fast-moving blobs.

North Korea, by contrast, is what you might call a target-rich environment for an aircraft like JSTARS. The E-8C specializes in identifying military vehicles moving along roads, a skill that major elements of the Iraqi military probably still remember.

It’s worth noting that the E-8C has recently demonstrated a multi-intelligence capability for the first time. Not only can the E-8C scan for moving targets with the APY-7, a synthetic aperture radar embedded in a 7.3m (24ft)-long canoe fairing under the fuselage. The E-8C’s testbed aircraft also has tested the Goodrich MS-177 camera, which is essentially the third generation of the Senior Year Electro Optical Reconnaissance System (SYERS) installed aboard the Lockheed Martin U-2 Dragon Lady.

Such improvements show how the E-8C is trying to adapt its role amidst heavy competitive pressure. Raytheon has installed a similar radar called the littoral surveillance radar system (LSRS) on the US Navy’s P-3C fleet, which, unlike the E-8C, already has a high-quality camera and a weapons bay. The US Air Force has taken notice of the new capability. An ongoing analysis of alternatives is evaluating how to replace the E-8C, focusing on an upgraded E-8C, a Boeing P-8A adapted with LSRS and unmanned aircraft systems adapted with the Northrop Grumman vehicle and dismount exploitation radar (VADER).

The USAF’s study is scheduled to be complete in April. Depending on what happens next on the peninsula, that could be perfect timing to incorporate lessons learned from the E-8C deployment to South Korea. 


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18 Responses to JSTARS goes to Korea

  1. Robert 29 November, 2010 at 3:40 pm #


  2. jetcal1 29 November, 2010 at 6:52 pm #

    Maybe it’s time to consider extra KC-X airframes and a depot level program to move the sensors and stations out of the E-8.

    Seems like improved reliability and loiter times with greater crew comfort/efficiency would be a good idea.

    And I’d bet that using USAF assets to do the engineering and upgrade work would be a welcome way keep the depots busy and maintaining industrial capabilities as the fleet size dwindles while giving them experience on the new KC-X airframe.

  3. Amicus Curiae 2 December, 2010 at 6:40 pm #

    “I shall go to Korea”

  4. dude 2 December, 2010 at 6:49 pm #


    It has been noted that ROK is deploying KSAM Pegasus to the frontline.

    Has the Korean version of Crotale NG SAM now has anti-artillery capability? Just curious….

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