General Larry Spencer, President of the Air Force Association, discusses cuts to the Pentagon’s plan to modernize the USAF fleet of radar surveillance aircraft.
The U.S. Air Force’s Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) planes have been in use since the late 1990s, While the flying radar platforms were once state of the art, the military said in their 2019 budget request that they need to update the planes for the modern battlefield. However, with the replacement program’s price tag nearing $7 billion, that plan is currently on hold. The Air Force has asked Congress for input on how to proceed. “The Joint STARS burst on the scene with Desert Storm, and so you’re dealing with that age of technology…” said General Larry Spencer (Retired USAF), president of the Air Force Association. “The Joint STARS are considered ‘low density, high demand,’ they only built 17 of these airplanes.” Some Pentagon commanders, including Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein, have proposed replacing the JSTARS system with an interconnected network of sensors, some of which are already present on aircraft. Spencer equates the current efforts to replace JSTARS with the recent decision to keep the A-10 Thunderbolt II flying. “That discussion got bogged down in a platform. It was about the A-10, not about the capability,” Spencer said. “This is about a capability [to track] ground moving targets and Command and Control, it’s not about a Boeing 707 frame.”