Plans for powerplant replacement and real-time targeting enhancements under way

Long-anticipated re-engining of the US Air Force's Northrop Grumman E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft has been launched with formal selection of the Pratt & Whitney/Seven Q Seven team to supply the JT8D-219 turbofan. Goodrich has been selected to supply nacelle components.

Northrop expects a contract soon to begin engineering, with an initial $12.5 million in funding included in the 2006 budget.

The schedule calls for the JSTARS testbed, T-3, to be retrofitted by January 2008, with the remaining 17 aircraft to be re-engined by fiscal year 2013. Converted from Boeing 707-300Cs, the E-8s are still powered by the 35-year-old P&W JT3Ds fitted when the airliners were originally delivered.

The USAF says the JT8Ds are more fuel-efficient, will increase altitude and loiter capability and comply with international noise and emissions standards.

Northrop is also to upgrade the JSTARS with a precision targeting capability, five years after the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) first demonstrated a low-cost way to attack moving targets, using the E-8's radar to provide targeting updates via datalink to GPS-guided weapons in flight.

The ability of the E-8 to geo-locate and track a moving vehicle using its surveillance radar, send target co-ordinates to the launch aircraft and update the seekerless weapon in flight to achieve a precision attack was demonstrated in 2002-3, during DARPA's Affordable Moving Surface Target Engagement programme.

The $56.2 million Enhanced Land/Maritime Mode upgrade includes a sensor update adding swath and enhanced synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) modes that provide higher-resolution imaging than the E-8's basic wide-area SAR capability.

All 18 of the E-8s are to be upgraded within 18-20 months, starting with T-3, says Northrop.

Boeing says existing Joint Direct Attack Munition bomb guidance tailkits will be modified with a weapon datalink to allow the GPS target co-ordinates to be updated in flight via radio link from the JSTARS.

USAF budget documents indicate that the upgraded weapons will be fielded beginning in 2008.

Source: Flight International