The House and Senate’s compromise 2019 defence bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), endorsed the US Air Force’s plan to replace the Northrop Grumman E-8 JSTARS with a new network of sensors spread across unmanned aerial vehicles and aircraft, called the Advanced Battle Management System.

In place of funds to buy more E-8 JSTARs aircraft, the NDAA bill adds $120 million to the General Atomics MQ-9 programme “to accelerate the development of the Advanced Battle Management System.” The redirection of funds indicates a central role for the UAV in the new network, but the bill offered few other details about how the replacement system would work.

Until the new system reaches initial operational capability, the NDAA bill also directs the USAF to maintain and operate its existing fleet of E-8 JSTAR aircraft.

The USAF intends to retire its primary aerial ground surveillance platform, JSTARs, in the mid-2020s and replace it with its Advanced Battle Management System, the Trump administration disclosed in its 2019 budget request released in February.