New MC2A contract expected to be the last, as US Air Force terminates its JSTARS replacement programme

Northrop Grumman has been funded to take the E-10A Multi-Sensor Command and Control Aircraft (MC2A) through to initial design review in May, but work is expected to end soon after as the surveillance and battle management platform has been cut from the US Air Force's budget.

Awarded to Northrop in its role as E-10A weapon system integrator, the latest $256 million contract covers design and analysis work under a scaled-back technology demonstration programme. But zeroing of the budget for 2008 means work on a new platform - previously expected to use the Boeing 767 - is unlikely to continue beyond the initial design review.

Instead, Northrop and the USAF are looking at transitioning technology to the existing E-8C JSTARS airborne ground surveillance system. This includes the wide-area sensor to be developed under the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Programme (MP-RTIP) and the battle management, command and control (BMC2) system being developed separately by Northrop for the E-10.

The MP-RTIP active-array radar remains in development for Northrop's RQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle, and a larger version could replace the synthetic-aperture radar/ground moving-target indication sensor in the E-8. The still-funded BMC2 suite, meanwhile, could be the basis for a future "back end" upgrade to the JSTARS.

The next major upgrade planned for the USAF's 17 JSTARS aircraft is re-engining, with an announcement expected soon. Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 turbofans are expected to replace the JT3Ds on the Boeing 707-based E-8, increasing performance, improving efficiency and reducing maintenance.

Source: Flight International