State Rep. Belton: JSTARS: Essential to Our National Defense

Staff Report From Georgia CEO

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Two Air Force wings, an active wing and a guard wing, are located in the heart of Middle Georgia on the north ramp of Robins Air Force Base. These wings are essential to the Air Force, as they support highly specialized missions for old Boeing 707s. These fifty-year-old E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems, code named “JSTARS,” are equipped with one-of-a-kind radar systems that track enemy movements on a scale that is unmatched by any other system. Simply put, JSTARS aircrafts locate the enemy after they’ve placed an improvised explosive device in the road, and these aircrafts then follow the enemy back to their hideout. Army personnel on JSTARS aircrafts communicate this information to their counterparts on the ground, who then track down the enemy in real time to eliminate the threat. It is a system that has no rivals, but unfortunately, the Air Force wants to get rid of the JSTARS systems.

Despite what you may have heard, Armed Forces spending is at an 80-year low. Only 3 percent of our gross domestic product goes towards military funding, which is half of what it was during the Reagan administration and down a third from during the Bush era.

Furthermore, Congress has struggled to pass a budget over the last several years, which ultimately resulted in the creation of the Budget Control Act and sequestration and a loss of nearly $1 trillion in funds for the military. Due to these significant financial cuts, the Army is the smallest it has been since before WWII, the Navy is the smallest it has been since before WWI and the Air Force is the smallest it has ever been and is flying the oldest airplanes it has ever flown. To deal with the funding cuts, the Department of Defense wants to close military bases through a Federal Base Realignment and Closure process and cut military weapon systems.

One of those weapon systems is the JSTARS program.

There is an obvious need for the Air Force to replace or “recap” these aging JSTARS aircrafts, and numerous studies have determined that the JSTARS Recapitalization (Recap) Program is best and most affordable solution to replacing these systems.  In fact, with the approval of the FY18 budget, Congress will have authorized almost three-quarters of a billion dollars toward a new JSTARS platform.

However, the Air Force’s Air Combat Command Unit has now offered an even cheaper solution based on an Analysis of Alternatives Study, which includes a new Advanced Battle Management System that will reevaluate the need for both the E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control systems and the E-8 JSTARS. This Analysis of Alternatives Study includes options for non-traditional concepts, including networking planned and purpose-built sensors into architectures that enable battle management command and control functions in highly contested environments.

In short, the Air Force wants to rely on satellite technology instead of replacing these aging JSTARS and AWACS.

Of course, our warfighters need to have the best technologies available, and it is encouraging that the Air Force is looking ahead to the future. However, cancelling the current recap program and relying on unproven network centric technologies without ensuring proven systems are available in sufficient numbers would do a disservice to our troops in the field.

More to the point, satellites cannot pinpoint the enemy the way the JSTARS can, nor can they relay their information in real-time to the troops on the ground the way JSTARS can. If the past has taught us anything, it is that we need more intelligence on the ground, not less. Satellites alone cannot accomplish this mission.

The recent events in North Korea, as well as requests by South Korea to purchase a JSTARS platform, further highlight the need for more JSTARS and JSTARS-like capability instead of pursuing unproven technologies and discussing the elimination of the JSTARS recap.

The Air Force has plenty of acquisition priorities, such as F-35 joint strike fighter, B-21 stealth bomber, KC-46 tanker, and trainer aircraft, and all of these programs are competing for limited dollars, but cancelling the JSTARS recap effort only kicks the can down the road.  The current JSTARS systems are already spread thin and needed everywhere.  Despite the costs, we need to extend the service life of the current JSTARS platform, and we also need to quickly develop a new Ground Moving Target Indication system, or systems, and deploy them now.

This vital weapon system, and the new technology that will replace the current system, directly supports our warfighters every day.  We are critically short of these types of platforms and every one we have is necessary. These systems save lives.

Our U.S. congressmen are aware of these issues and have been doing yeoman’s work to ensure that these concerns are addressed at the highest levels in Washington D.C.  We owe it to this fantastic team to let them know we support their efforts and will continue to support them in the future.  Please consider taking the time to call and write to your congressman to let them know you appreciate their work on this critical issue.