Air Force Won’t Replace JSTARS Fleet

It looks like the Air Force can’t afford to replace it’s fleet of E-8 Joint Surveillance Targeting and Attack Radar System  (JSTARS) jets that are based on 40-year old Boeing 707s. (To be fair, the jets have been completely refurbished, as JSTARS prime contractor-Northrop Grumman will remind anyone who points out the ex-airliners’ age)

The air service has been looking at whether to replace or upgrade the E-8s for years now and it has finally come to the conclusion that it needs to replace the ground-scanning radar jets with a mix of business jet-based spy planes and RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs. There’s just one problem — money.

Here’s what Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 20.

“The reality is there is not enough space to undertake a new start business-class ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] platform,” said the four-star. “We simply don’t have the resources.”

In the meantime, the Air Force will have to make do with the existing airplanes. No word on what will happen with the stalled effort to replace the jets ancient JT3D engines that burn so much fuel taking off from hot Middle Eastern bases that they have to refuel from a waiting tanker before they can begin their missions.

I’d also like to know if any of the technology that Boeing was developing for its P-8 Poseidon-based replacement for the E-8 will eventually make it onto the JSTARS.

With the JSTARS fleet likely to remain in service for the foreseeable future, lets hope the Air Force doesn’t lose anymore of them, like it did this one.

Via Flight.


  • Sgt_Buffy

    So, the E-8 won’t get replaced by the cancelled RQ-4 Reaper. Pity. Boeing has “proposed” developing a P-8 for the job, but they’re already spending a lot on their own programs, and if the gov’t won’t be paying for the replacement, there isn’t much incentive for them. A report from stated that they planned to refurbish the E-8’s to last another 40-50 years, starting with those awful fuel-gulping engines, but the plan hasn’t been given the full go-ahead yet. There is a testbed E-8 that was recosntructed with the proposed modifications, and it works well. Question is will the Air Force jump on board? The re-up will cost “…$2.7 billion: $900M re-engining, $500M for new APY-7 receiver and exciters, $1 billion for a cheek array, $300M for avionics upgrade and battle management improvements.”…

    • Sgt_Buffy

      “Dec 14/11: Northrop Grumman announces that its JSTARS T-3 testbed aircraft has successfully completed its first official flight using the new, Pratt and Whitney engines, and the newly designed pneumatic system for bleed air cooling.”

    • Diana Bock

      Be careful what you call the RQ-4. It is not the Reaper.

    • wheels_brakes

      Re-engining the JSTARS fleet is needed, but will break the bank… get better bang for your buck by refurbishing the wheels and brakes with carbon discs. Decreased weight, increase landings per overhaul from 100+ to 1000+, better fuel efficiency, and shorter landing distances will increase the weapons system capability.

      Cost: About $5M USD

  • Nicky

    Why not develop a smaller version of JSTARS on a Boeing 737, 777 or 757. Use the existing Boeing fleet, just transfer the hardware from E-8 to either the 737, 777 or 757

    • Passing By

      I’m not sure what version of the 707 the E-8 is based off of but let’s just assume it is the biggest version, the 707-320. The smallest is about the size of a modern day 737-900.

      The 777-200 (smallest version of the 777) is much larger than the 707. Both in width and length. The 777’s are among the largest commercial airlines ever built, I think only the 747, A330, and A340 have versions larger (maybe a Russian airliner too?). So that’s out unless you have some need for a beast.

      The 757-200 is roughly the same size so that could work. There are plenty of these around. However, the production lines shut down years ago so new ones can be ruled out. The 757-300 is much larger.

      The 737 would be the best candidate. The largest version, the 900 is almost the same size as the 707 and there are many other smaller models. Plentiful in quantity, still produced, and widely used in the military which helps on maintenance costs.

      • Passing By

        Forgot about the A380, whoops.

      • Nicky

        Maybe the USAF and buy in production Boeing 777, 707 or 757 and take the stuff from the E-8 and put it in either one of those

      • brannigans law

        It’s less about aircraft size and more about having four engines and eight generators to produce enough electricity for the radar and equipment.

        • Amanda

          E8s don’t have 8 generators, just 4.

    • Old391

      The Air Force had a newer version based on the 767 airframe which would have done JSTARS and AWACS but they cancel the program due to the cost over runs at that time for the F22 and F35 fighters.

  • MCQknight

    Shame. I’m sure the guys flying those would love to fly an armed P-8 variant.

  • mpower6428

    oh dont you worry folks, the airforce will find a way to get everything it wants.

    meanwhile the marines, navy, army and well… the rest of “us” will make room in our budgets.

    • Blue

      really?…You obviously have no clue what the JSTARS is used for


      The rest of ‘us’ want a strong military, including a strong AF. Implying the rest of the military will suffer at the expense of the AF is ignorant.

    • Feather

      Heck, the Army and Marines would probably help pay for it because of the benefit they get on the ground. They won’t let the capability go away…

    • Jay

      you realize the “J” in “JSTARS” means “Joint” i.e. for all services.

    • RRR

      The aircraft is operated by the USAF and Air National Guard (ANG) units and carries United States Army personnel as additional flight crew.

  • Lance

    I dont see the need t replace the E-8. The 707 based planes where made in the 80s and have much lower flying hours than the KC-135 which will fly for many years to come as well. Again some dumb General has to have everything new well sorry not going to happen anytime soon.

    The E-8 is just fine for this decade.

    • guess

      The E8 was produced in the 80s but they weren’t built on new airframes

      • Lance

        I know but the airframes had very low hours on them that’s why those one where specifically picked to be a E-8.

        • Flyjinx

          Not true. Each and every airframe was previously owened by up to 14 different commercial airline companies. Everyone had 60K+ flight hours on them when they were procured by the AF to be refurbed into E-8s.

        • Former E-8C Nav

          I was a JSTARS crewmember up until 2007. I looked at the 781s: 60+ to 70+K hours on the airframes. These older airframes were selected because the E-8 program was almost cancelled after the USSR imploded, the USAF missed the last run of 707s (Navy TACAMO were the last purchased, the E-8s would have also come from that last run). Since the AWACS is a 707 airframe the USAF bought models that were as similar as they could find for some measure of parts commonality.

    • tiger

      What do you base your lower flying hour figure on?

    • goat

      First of all. Most of the E-8 aircraft have around 60,000 hours on them most of your tankers only ave 20 something. so your statement is false.

    • Scott

      You’re full of it. When NG procured the 707s the one with the least hours had somewhere around 30K on it. Don’t be fooled by NG’s statement that they refurbed them…it was mostly cosmetic and to facilitate the massive changes associated with JSTARS. Most of those 707s acquired were circa 60s and early 70s built.

    • Scott

      Lance, to put it in plain English, your an idiot. Before you choose to comment on a topic you should first know something about it. The E-8 707’s are production aircraft that rolled off the Boeing assembly lines on average in the mid to late 60’s. Northrop Grumman did nothing more in the 80’s than Boeing would have during a normal Depot level inspection. The fact is these aircraft are just as old as the majority of the KC-135 fleet and just as tired. The decision to use this airframe in the first place was at best moronic.

  • Mark

    If the intended replacement options include a business jet why not buy the RAF’s Sentinel R1’s. They are almost new, will be retired after the pullout from Afghanistan in 2014, and if the Harrier deal is anything to go by dirt cheap.

    • Old391

      The airframes might be cheap but the cost to convert them to a JSTARS platform will be hugh as they donot have the same systems and power as the E-8C has

  • Benjamin

    Re-engining will only go so far. I do not see operating a 707 based aircraft even with modifications as economically viable in about 10 years. The 707 has been out of production for a while and sooner or later it is going to become prohibitively expensive to buy parts for these aircraft

  • James Anderson

    Why don’t they scrap the KC-135r’s And use their engines on the j-stars. They are relatively modern turbofans and are reasonably fuel efficient. It will buy the j-stars another 15 to 20 years of service until money comes about to build a suitable replacement. Come on guys, this is not rocket science.

    • Vaporhead

      What would we replace our -135’s with? The KC-46 won’t be operational for another 10 years most likely.

    • Eric

      The engines on the tankers use would interfere with the radar. They hang to low.

    • Liam

      I thought the KC135 was originally powered by the same engines as the 707. The KC135, a 70’s vintage platform with upgrades, is up to its assigned function for 2-3 decades to come. Why not upgrade the JSTAR’s in what’s proven to be a rational solution to the KC135?

      • Ken
      • Ken
    • Scott

      We need to stop putting Band-Aids on bullet wounds. It just doesn’t work.

    • Former E-8C Nav

      The CFM-56 will not fit on the existing E-8C pylons, they would have to be completely re-engineered and replaced. Then you have the increased thrust and structural loads for the wings, another re-engineer. It may not be rocket science, but it is complex and expensive engineering

  • Roland

    Invest, mass produce green energy while exploring and extracting oil resources. Use Portland, Oragon on the economics strategy on the energy efficiency and revenue creation.

    • crackedlenses


    • blight_

      Not sure why you invoked Portland, a city better known for its mixed mass transit and bicycling culture?

      There are plenty of options for static infrastructure that simply change the input source that is converted into useable electricity. However, not a lot of solutions for the aircraft in the sky or the carrier on the ground. Solar is unlikely to provide power for aircraft or a carrier.

      • Roland

        Portland Origon is one of the top ten on energy efficient in the country today. The leading state is Massachusetts w/c overtakes California as #1. However Portland Origon PGE is number 1 on renewable energy program in the country. A few weeks ago because of its dynamic on energy program it ask to pay oil compnanies millions of dollars in revenues to reduce the use if green energy during heavy storm because it exceed it’s energy requirement. Portland grreen source supply mix comes from 39% low impact hydro,33% New Wind, 22 % new Biomass and 6% New Geothermal Energy.They also have clean wind energy where they have 20.3% new wind, 0.9% Nuclear, 33.6 /5 Coal, 33.2% hydro/They also use. resources mix where they have 41% coal, 1% wind Geothermal, 42% hydro, 3% Biomass, 3% Nuclear, and 10% natural gas. Portland Oregan energy uses solar, biomas, biogas, geothermal power and wave power.all energy is used, save tens of billions of dollars per year thus creating revenue for the state’s economy.

        • blight_

          41% coal and 10% natgas. Whereas bumping up natgas some more would probably be cheaper than “low impact hydro” (when is it ever), “new wind” (whatever that means). I like geothermal myself, and it works best on the coasts. Anywhere along the Ring of Fire is ripe for geotherm.

          I wonder what the utility bill is in Portland.

          Also: what replaces gasoline for vehicles and aircraft? New wind isn’t going to get a fighter jet going.

        • Don

          So, where are we to put the wind mill machine on this bird?

      • Roland

        The navy and ai-rforce already tested algae fuel as a viable source of energy to mobilize the entire fleet of the air-force jets and planes,navy ship and boats and army’s tanks for sometime now. Solar on the other hand are also been tested by the country. (USA), Japan also had experimented the use of solar for number of years now on plane, truck and ships. The use of solar from the power of the sun to create energy and then transferred to the battery cell storage then to the engine. The design is like that of Chevy Volt concept.. The green energy concept was to use a clean and cheap energy to enable the whole country to save trillions of dollars every year from buying foreugn oil and create revenue to create job, build infrastructures, navy, air-force, army equipment, projects, defense and even to pay, lower the country’s national dept. and help boost the economy in the process.

        • blight_

          Algae biofuel isn’t “green” in the purest sense: you’re confusing the moves we make for independence for foreign oil for what we do for the environment. Though it may be greener than shale…

        • Vaporhead

          Biofuel costs like 20x’s the price as normal fuel. How does that make fiscal sense?

  • tiger

    Well Well Fighter Fans. There is a Air force beyond the F-22. While they keep crying about “What if Air combats, ” Other needs go un met.


      Worrying about the “what ifs” is called planning. Smart people and organizations do it all the time. FYI, JSTARS isn’t a fighter, like many other airplanes in the AF.

  • Benjamin

    If the DOD is interested in saving money it should convert some of the Air Force Bases which are remotely located to nuclear power. Not all places are sunny all the time and not all places have wind all the time.

    Using alternative sources of energy are only good where they make either economic or national security sense.

    • blight_

      There are bigger costs than power for facilities, though replacing portable fuel-powered generators with something else wouldn’t be a bad idea. Some sort of “light nuke” might not be a bad idea, but expect anything in the field to be blown up at some point.

    • tiger

      Well until they stop playing political games over Yucca mountain, Were do you store the waste?

      • blight_

        If that crap leaks it’ll cost us more to fix and replace. The geological survey didn’t catch something (groan!) and now we’re in the hole.

        We can always find somewhere else far away from an aquifer and hope for the best. The other alternative is to ship waste to sea and dump it into a deep sea trench, but I think the animals at the bottom won’t be very pleased. The other alternative is to go to breeder reactors and re-enrich the fuel, but breeders can be used to make weapons grade plutonium, which puts any breeder under instant suspicion.

    • Vaporhead

      What does this have to do with not replacing the JSTARS?

  • Jim

    I wonder if Gen Schwartz missed the meeting where it was decided to pay the Afghan government $4.1 Billion a year for the next 10 years for their military and police needs? I believe that money should be appropriated to our military forces and to the VA for Veterans. IF we have this apparent wealth available to use for the Afghans; WHY don’t we have money for our very much needed uses? Guess it falls under the statement “disregard the man behind the curtain” from the “Wizard Of Oz”.

    • baddab

      why dont we have the money to fund the program??? the imperial federal govt is too busy giving the money to refurbish mosques around the world ($62 billion), money to help the venezualan oil industry locate and produce oil that they will sell to china ($200 billion), untold billions to countries that dont want to have a thing to do with us except help bring us down….need I say more???

  • David

    Maybe if Northrop/Grumman and the other contractors would stop over charging and stop the exec. bonuses they could aford a replacement

  • The Fixer

    First no foreign aircraft! Next the options in Boeings commercial fleet, 737, 757, 767 would be good choices for next gen aircraft, they are proven platforms that should be good for the next fifty years, that KC- 135, was retired early so their engines could be used on the special purpose aircraft like JSTAR , just no engines available or parts to repair them, reengining them with CFM or other new generation engines that they were not designed for poses another set of problems that could cause the aircraft to be retired in a very short time after reengining, I would say go new, the fuel savings would make them cost competitive with the old, same cost saving reasons they retired the 707’s, fuel, parts and a two man crew.

    • Greg

      No I like this the best, as an old Air Force welder (sr-71)oooppss gave my age away, this is the only way to go. the Fixer, you got it right!!!

  • fangs out

    No worry people war make evry thing right . Hear the drums?

  • voteforanybodyelse

    P.S. Before I come under attack for whining just for myself, I was in the service, and was honorably discharged after my time was up, I get zero benefits from the government, and want zero from the government, however, I do want either some, or more for my brother and sister vets, either present, or past, make no difference, they all deserve more from this country, as many paid the ultimate price and are laying in the cemetary, but all veterans were prepared to do the same, we owe them much, but give them little.

    • served proudly

      I agree completely, I too served for eight years, went to Desert Storm. I was promised benefits, no I don’t expect a pension,but I was suprised when I was trying to resister for Veterans Hospital and was asked if I have Med. insurance and how much income I make.I and my wife both served and should not have to worry about medical needs.

  • USABlondie13

    Reply to voteforanybodyelse: You are so right..Makes me sick when i see OUR Military going with out the things they need..! My family has had 6 members in the Army over the years..Including an Uncle that was a Doughboy..! and several others in other branches of the service..! But, Back in the GOOD old days they were better provided for ..Now the Military is going With out even getting the wages they deserve for putting their lives on the line for us..! Let alone they Supplies they need..! Pathetic situation..! Makes me just fume every time i think about it..!! I just keep Praying for them ..! God be with them all..!! USABlondie13

    • Old391

      Obama and the DemocRATS believe the people on Welfare and other government subsidy programs are more important to them as they vote for them so they can keep those benefits than the people who protect and defend the United States. The money spent on all the DemocRAT program they have started since FDR is way more expensive than the DOD budget. Like someone say the DemocRATS are turning the US into a wimp society where everyone will expect the government to provide for them

      • voteforanybodyelse

        You are very correct, and if you say anything about Obama, you are attacked as a racist. I could care less what color Obama is, the fact is, he is not up to being President of this great country, and he and his cronies are ruining the country. Everything still gets blamed on Bush, my response to this is, when Bush was President, both houses of congress were controlled by the demoRats, so if you are going to blame people, spread the wealth.

  • Jake Jaques

    Money — Money — Money. No one has it. Keep a sharp eye on the JSTARS equipment (not its present airframes) and program necessary EQUIPMENT upgrades for the time when money is no longer available to fund airframes; the JSTARS gear can be transferred to commercial fleet aircraft ala the CRAF fleet model from the past.

  • Terry

    It’s a shame we have to make cuts to our defense department,why not cut the congressmens and semotors pay in half,they do anything anyway……….

  • Nukem

    I work on the Rivet Joint RC-135 which works a lot with the JSTARs and both aircrafts save a lot of groundpounders lives. Upgrading this aircraft would be a big benefit to the troops on the ground. Americans and our allies.

  • Mr_Darrell

    Personally, even though you would lose flight crew, I would replace the current system with an manned aircraft without the mission crew that would be capable of performing the same mission, but without the potential of losing 18 or more mission crew members to a crash. a global hawk or similar not an E-8 or E-10 system.

  • Marin Luther

    Has anybody heard of the capabilities of UAVs to do the J-Star job?

    • Mr_Darrell

      As an engineer, technically, it is “possible” for UAVs to do the ground surveillance job, but I would recommend a manned system for more “real-ltime” flexibility……….just like we have manned space flight. .

      AWACS has lost crew members just taking off in Alaska.

      • Mr_Darrell

        September 23, 1995
        Web posted at 5:45 a.m.EDT

        ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CNN) — A high-tech Air Force surveillance plane crashed near Anchorage Friday, killing all 24 crew members aboard. Twenty-two of the flight crew were American; the remaining two were Canadian.

        Emergency teams cut a path to the otherwise inaccessible crash site with a bulldozer.

        The Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane, the first of its kind to crash, went down shortly after taking off from Elmendorf Air Force Base at 7:30 a.m. local time (11:30 a.m. EDT). It was beginning a four-hour training mission with 24 crew members on board.

        Eyewitnesses said the four-engine plane crashed in an enormous fireball in a heavily-wooded area two miles northeast of the runway, sending up a dense cloud of black smoke that could be seen 30 miles away. The crash ignited 125,000 pounds of jet fuel and tossed debris over several acres.

        AWACS is a 707 airframe

  • Mr_Darrell

    Personally, I would replace the current system with an manned aircraft without the mission crew that would be capable of performing the same mission, but without the potential of losing 35 or so crew members to a crash. not an E-8 or E-10 system.

  • David

    Think of it as a 1957 Chevy. Rebuild it and put some bling and it would be one cool ride.
    The planes don’t need replacing. The politicians in the district where the planes would be built want them built because of the revenue prospects and of course the military wants some new toys.

  • JSTARS Crew

    Saying these were “Totally refurbished” is an outright lie. One plane was refurbed to “zero hours” and the cost was so high that future planes came off the line with as high as 66,000 hours and just 15% of airframe/wing life remaining. The planes would arrive at Robins AFB, go thru inspection and have hundreds of discrepancies, but they were delivered on time, so NG got a bonus. Even at th IOC ceremony in 1997 the retired GO who led the team to select used 707s (they did build one E-8B off a new 707 that was never completed) apologized to the entire audience. Guess what, at that same dinner the guys from NG were sitting low in their seats-but not to worry-they fleeced the taxpayer well.

  • Chiller

    Hilarious… the 707-300 airframe that is overworked…. So inefficient it needs to refuel before going on station…. 50-60K hours on the airframes….
    So what about the AWACS?
    Or better yet the Rivet Joint?
    all in the same boat as the JSTARS… or at least the RJ is….

    How about we nip this in the butt and actually pay attention to someone else for a change?
    Brazil: ERJ-145 based AEW and SIGINT platforms.
    Israel: G550 based AEW and SIGINT platforms
    Australia: B737 AEW

    I think the better answer is to move our fleets to a smaller aircraft that is more capable. Reduce airframes, manpower and operating costs, increase quality within the Air Force by firing the idiots. I am sick and tired of D-Bag leadership.

  • Doug Rodrigues

    Why not just replace the engines?

  • Goun Jeong

    Dear Air force, I have many toys in my house. If you want to not given your self up be cheerful to you. Don’t ever given your self up just be happy and take my beanie babies and I will set you go and help people. We are the teamwork together.

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