NATO OFFICIALS have been briefed on the USA's "Fast Track" offer to provide two Northrop Grumman E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft off the US Air Force production line for the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) programme. The two E-8s would be paid for by the USA.

The aircraft would be delivered in 2000 and 2001, to meet an urgent NATO requirement, says Col Larry Roseland, director of international programmes in the JSTARS programme office. They would be followed by six E-8s built for NATO, two of which would be delivered to the USAF to replace the aircraft diverted to the Alliance under the Fast Track programme.

Diverting E-8s already planned for the USAF would make JSTARS aircraft available four years earlier than would otherwise be possible, Roseland says. If NATO national armament-directors decide in November to accept the Fast Track offer, and defence ministers sign a letter of intent, the USAF will seek Congressional approval to divert the aircraft, he says.

AGS options being studied by NATO include a ground station able to receive data from French and Italian helicopter-mounted surveillance radars, as well as from JSTARS aircraft. There is also a "Deliberate Track" option, which would take a longer-term approach to acquiring a NATO ground-surveillance capability, Roseland says.

USJSTARS procurement is to be cut from 19 to 13 aircraft, with the Department of Defense counting on NATO to buy the additional six aircraft needed to support operations in two near-simultaneous major regional conflicts.

Northrop Grumman's bid to sell the E-8 into Europe were recently dealt a blow when the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) decided to compete its Airborne Stand-off Radar programme only between Lockheed Martin, offering the Gulfstream V, and Raytheon, offering the Bombardier Global Express, as the aircraft. Northrop Grumman had offered the E-8 to the MoD , but this was not deemed suitable for the UK. The UK may offer the winner as a contender for the NATO requirement.

Source: Flight International