USAF Eyes Business Jets As Possible E-8 JSTARS Replacement

We’ve known for a while now that the Air Force has been looking at various ways to upgrade or replace its fleet of E-8 JSTARS radar planes whose powerful radars scan the ground looking for everything from enemy vehicles to individual insurgents.

However, during yesterday’s House Armed Services Committee hearing to discuss the services 2012 budget, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz gave us a better look at what options are being considered. Most interesting, was his statement that the service is looking at business jets as one potential replacement for the 707-based E-8.

Last year, I wrote over at Defense News that the air service was considering a variant of the 737-based P-8 but I haven’t heard anything about the Air Force looking at business jets for the mission. I’ve got to say, this idea makes sense. Look at the Brits and their soon-to-be-shelved Sentinel ground surveillance planes (pictured above) that are based on the Bombardier Global Express business jet.

Hmm, I wonder how cheap it would be for U.S. to buy the Sentinels from the U.K. I mean, hey, some of the 707s in the current JSTARS fleet were used as civilian cargo haulers around the world before being purchased and refurbished by the U.S. in the 1990s. We clearly have no problem buying used airframes for the this mission and the Sentinels are a lot newer than those 707s were when we bought them.

Schwartz added that the service is also eying Block 40 Global Hawk drones for the role, again, this is something we’ve known for a while.

  • Dave

    these are not Lear Jets, we are talking large business jets. They are weather capable as much as a an old 707.

  • Dave

    I think the USAF should. They could at least be a stop gap until a more advance design is fielded.

  • hqi777

    Drones. Look at the Reaper and the Predator. In 1990, when the tech was available (some even say it was possible during the 1980s), it was a little clumsy and very pricey. Now, they’re cheap, and fairly high tech.

  • Curt

    P-8 is also basically a C-40 so you derive commonality with not only a large group of other military aircraft (Navy P-8s, Navy and Air Force C-40s), but also a huge civilian 737NG base. One of the benefits of the C-135 airframe was it was used for so many different roles. It may not have been perfect for any single role, but commonality made it the best choice. Of course, the P-8 was largely derived from the BBJ so you can say it is a business jet.

  • Dale

    I was a little involved with JSTARS during it’s initial testing phase due to my JCS staff job and flew on the first “experimental” aircraft. That aircarft and those first few WERE “retired” airliners around 20 years old. The first one was one Boeing airframe S/N older than SAM 27000. If any of them hauled cattle or not I can’t say. if any of the initial ones are the current 17 I can’t say but I can say that the 707 line was long out of production by the late 80’s so ALL the airframes from where ever they came from were “used”

  • Dale

    The AWACS getting to be the age where they will need to be replaced. Why not build one new aircraft with the E-3 radar on top and the E-8 radar on the bottom . Use which ever the current mission calls for. I am sure through curent software, the consoles which may be not much more than laptops can switch back and forth with a mouse click. They may need a few more that they have of either now but proably less then they have now of both. If you can fit both all into a G-5 or a 737 fine if they need bigger then use the aircraft be it Boeing or EADS that finnally wins the “tanker war”

  • G2G

    I’d avoid using the Global Hawk. Northrup Grumman hasn’t exactly been on- the-ball with the RQ-4 program.

    • SMSgt Mac


  • DualityOfMan

    This brings up the question of what airframes will be used to replace the E-3, E-6, OC-135, WC-135, and RC-135.

  • Jim_H

    I would hazzard a guess that the WC-135,E-3, RC-135, KC-135,KC-10 will be replaced with who ever wins the Tanker contract, which I understand MAYBE annunced with in the next week or two. As for who will win it, I’m hoping that Boeing wins and has a lot of controls to prevent cost over runs, etc. I’m not a big fan of the Airbus people, the plane may be fine, but look at from whinch comes your spare parts, etc., not to mention that most of the money used to buy the aircraft will be sent back to Europe and our own people getting little or nothing out of the contract. Keep it at home, where you can controll a lot more of the results.

  • SMSgt Mac

    My program contact was surprised at my question, and referrred me to a document that’s been in in the public domain for a long time.
    Volume I April 1997 WL-TR-97-3093
    Pg 2-1. “Each of the aircraft assigned to the Joint STARS program was used as a cargo aircraft, and many hauled livestock during their lives.”

    Pg 4-22. “ZONES 2-4 OF P-4 The elevated corrosion levels in zones 2-2 and 2-4 on the P-4 aircraft may be attributed to leakage experienced in the crown skins and the cargo carried by the aircraft. The aircraft experienced leakage in the aft fuselage crown skins The moisture introduced through this leak resulted in elevated corrosion in zone 2-2. The aircraft was used, in part, to carry livestock. The higher corrosion levels in the floor structures is believed to be the result of animal waste products in addition to the leakage from the crown skins.”

  • SMSgtMac

    As to tail numbers, from the same report I mentioned elsewhere:
    The P-4 aircraft, also a Boeing 707-338C, rolled off the assembly line on 10 November 1967. It had 9929 flights with 27,442 flight hours when it was accepted by BCAL. The aircraft was transferred to Anglo Cargo on 5 August 1989 with 14,565 flights and 47,336 flight hours. Monarch Aircraft Inc. took over maintenance at 52,354 flight hours.
    Aerotech Stowstead took over maintenance at 16,913 flights and 58,495 flight hours. The aircraft was acquired by the Joint STARS program on 4 February 1994 with 18,812 flights and 65,311 flight hours. The aircraft was flown primarily between the United Kingdom, Middle East and Africa. The P4 has been known as the VH-EBW, G-BDEA, EL-AKH,
    and AF93-1097.
    even though the ‘tail #s’ of these birds are 1990s, they’re rehabilitated airframes that are much older. I gather that P-4 was the worst of the bunch at the time of the study.
    Thanks! Your question piqued my interest a little more and I found another couple of reference documents on the E-8 and its history. Fascinating stuff.

  • jamesb


    The US Air Force Ain’t gonna buy ANYTHING LITTLE…..

    I keep saying here….
    Let the Army start up its OWN thing….
    SMALL Cargo Hauler’s
    Light Attack piston jobbies….
    Exec Look Down Jobbies life the Israeli’s….

    The Air Force ain’t thinking about going slow….
    Or SMALL…..

  • jamesb

    Like the Israeli’s….

  • blight_

    We’re doing sloppy seconds on whatever aircraft get dumped by the recession.

  • Paragon

    The irony is that the UK is buying (or leasing, can’t remember) E8’s…