The US Air Force has missed a self-imposed late October deadline for deciding the fate of a threatened plan to recapitalise the Northrop Grumman E-8C JSTARS fleet.
The service has considered stepping away from a plan that would replace the E-8C JSTARS fleet with a new business jet and instead exploring alternative intelligence and surveillance platforms, a concept that could include using multiple systems to satisfy the ground surveillance and battle management role. USAF Secretary Heather Wilson is still gathering information on how data could be fused over several platforms and whether the technology to accomplish the JSTARS mission is ready.
It’s not the first time Wilson has pushed the decision to cancel the recapitalisation. In September, she indicated the service would decide by October, but moved that date during a 5 October speech in Washington.
“We should be able to make a rapid assessment and a decision so that we can explain to the Secretary of Defense...as well as the other branch of government, what we think is the best thing to do,” Wilson said.
The source selection process for the replacement programme is continuing as the USAF evaluates alternative options with a contract award expected this summer.
“We plan to continue to continue flying the current JSTARS fleet through fiscal year 2023,” a service spokeswoman says in an email statement. “Although we are exploring options, there are many steps still to be taken before any force structure proposals are included in the fiscal year 2019 budget.”
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are in conference, where they’ll work out the differences in their two fiscal year 2018 defence policy bills into one comprehensive piece of legislation. But the USAF might not release a decision until the service sends its FY 2019 budget to Congress this spring.