JSTARS Contractor Joins Modernization Competition

By Valerie Insinna
Northrop Grumman is jumping into the fray of the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System recapitalization program to replace the Air Force’s premier surveillance and targeting aircraft. The service wants to buy new airframes equipped with the latest software, sensors and computing systems, with four becoming operational as early as fiscal year 2022.

The company is the prime contractor of the legacy JSTARS system, which is integrated on the Boeing 707-derived E-8C aircraft. Aircraft and electronics companies such as Boeing, Gulfstream, Raytheon, Rockwell Collins and Bombardier have also expressed interest in the program.

Northrop Grumman is not an aircraft manufacturer and has not yet selected which business liner or jet will house its new JSTARS, said Alan Metzger, vice president of the company’s recapitalization effort. Rather, its approach has been to invest in the myriad electronic systems that comprise JSTARS.

“Since this whole thing began, we’ve been doing all of the required things you would expect in terms of risk reduction, requirements analysis, trying to understand the system architecture,” he said. Northrop has refined its battle management command-and-control software and integrated it with assorted computers, communications systems and sensors within a Gulfstream 550 testbed.

“I think one of the reasons why we have been looking at the 550 is because it is the smallest aircraft” under consideration, said spokesman Bryce McDevitt. “We essentially wanted to demonstrate that the integration of the Joint STARS technology would be possible on a smaller aircraft, which is what we’ve done.”

The Gulfstream 550, as a business jet, is smaller than the mid-size Boeing 707 airliner, but because communications and other electronic systems are continuously shrinking, the legacy capability can fit into a smaller footprint, Metzger said.

In September and October, the company demonstrated its system at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia, Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts, Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, Metzger said. He believes the company’s testbed showcases an “80 percent solution.”

“We have tested different sensors on our aircraft, different [communication] devices on our aircraft and things of that nature,” he said. “Some of the things we have tested will be the final configuration. Others won’t. So we still have that process to go through, and that basically requires the Air Force to firm up their final requirements so we can make our final selection.”
Northrop will also choose an airframe at that point, he said.

Topics: C4ISR, Tactical Communications, Test and Evaluation

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