The US Air Force is trying to come up with a business case to replace its ageing “large wing” intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets.
The Northrop Grumman E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft inventory, which is based on old Boeing 707 airframes, is the fleet that most urgently needs to be replaced, but money is scarce for the USAF in a time of financial crisis.
“New capital programmes are a huge challenge for us,” says Gen Mike Hostage, head of the service’s Air Combat Command.
The service’s analysis of alternatives for a JSTARS replacement programme showed that the best replacement would be a business jet-based platform. However, Hostage says, the service needs to build a business case to pay for such a replacement without a huge capital outlay.
One possibility is replacing the JSTARS by taking a risk with the current fleet through standing down the old aircraft while paying for new ones by using the savings generated, Hostage says. “But that means no fleet for some period of time or giving up a portion of our fleet to recapitalise those.”
However, how the proposal ultimately will shake out is still unknown.