MELBOURNE, Fla: Recent events for Northrop Grumman Corporation’s
E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS)
aircraft program reinforce its contribution as the top airborne battle
management platform. Joint STARS is the only platform in the U.S.
defense arsenal that can provide wide area surveillance covering more
than 50,000 square kilometers and detect objects moving at a wide
variety of speeds.
The system’s expanded capabilities were recently demonstrated in a
major coalition exercise in Korea. Its aircrews received their sixth
consecutive battle management award. “These are significant examples of
the system’s battle management capabilities, and illustrates its
ability to adapt to the needs of the warfighter,” said Dale Burton,
vice president for Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and
Battle Management Command and Control.
The versatility of the system to support more conventional
operations was demonstrated during Ulchi Freedom Guardian 09 (UFG).
This annual event is the world’s largest annual computerized command
and control exercise. Retired Brig. Gen Barry Barksdale, Senior Air
Controller for UFG, cited the Joint STARS input and crew role in
success of the battle management exercise.
“If the opposing forces moved 100 tanks out of an underground
facility, it would be immediately apparent to a fighter equipped with a
pod that flew overhead or perhaps just a visual pickup,” General
Barksdale said. “In the simulation, only the Predator or the E-8C Joint
STARS can provide this input in near-real time, and the Predator
requires something to provide the cueing to narrow the look area.”
Bringing their “real world” expertise to the exercise, Barksdale
noted issues the Joint STARS crew tackled “ran the gamut from the more
obvious marshalling of air assets against emerging mobile forces,
time-sensitive targeting, airspace deconfliction, targeting priorities,
changing weather conditions, and countless others too numerous to
The recent award of the Air Force
Association’s Air Battle Management Crew of the Year to a Joint STARS
team brings to light some of their daily contributions. Each year,
Joint STARS crews are considered against other systems for the award
based on their battle management contribution to the USAF and air
power. This year’s award was the sixth in a row for a Joint STARS crew
and the ninth since the award’s inception in 1998.
The 2009 winning crew from the 116th Air Control Wing was recognized
for accomplishments including exposing weapon smuggling routes,
providing overwatch for convoys and ground units and alerting them of
insurgent advancement, relaying targets to fighters, identifying
hideouts, locating individuals planting improvised explosive device and providing target information to fighter aircraft.
Joint STARS powerful radar can track enemy combatants in all weather
conditions, day or night. Often referred to as “911 in the Sky,” the
E-8C has the capability to correlate information from a wide variety of
sensors and sources to provide unprecedented situational awareness to
the combat elements on the ground.
It provides a top-down look that can track insurgents in flat areas
found in Iraq, as well as looking down in the sides of mountains and
into the valleys of Afghanistan. The ability to simultaneously track
vehicles as well as other emerging target categories in multiple areas
of interest, over large areas, makes the Joint STARS system unique
among Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance assets.
“Yet, with all of its technological capabilities, the real warfighter value comes from the onboard Air Force and Army
operations and intelligence specialists providing real-time battle
management support,” said Brig. Gen Tom Moore, commander of the 116th
Air Control Wing at Robins AFB, Ga. “Our crews are trained to evaluate
Ground Moving Target Indicator information to identify vehicle or
emerging target threats for U.S. and allied troops. They are invaluable
to the entire process.”
Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for the E-8C Joint STARS
development and whole-life support programs. The Joint STARS program is
managed by the 751st Electronic Support Group at Hanscom Air Force
Base, Mass. All 17 combat-configured Joint STARS aircraft are assigned
to the Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th ACW, a “total-force blended
wing,” comprising active-duty Air Force, Army and Air National Guard
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