INTELLIGENCE AND SURVEILLANCE
For Boeing’s JSTARS Offering, Bigger is Better
Boeing has decided to offer its 737-700 airliner as the Air Force’s next targeting and surveillance aircraft, with company executives hoping its larger size will be an advantage in the competition.
“The reason that we've really gone with this particular airframe, the -700, is [because] it's extremely affordable,” said Rod Meranda, Boeing’s JSTARS business development lead. “It has the size, weight, power and cooling to support all the equipment that's going to be on this airplane and also be able to fly ... long sorties."
The Air Force launched an effort to recapitalize its aging Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft, or JSTARS, in 2013. The service plans on buying 17 aircraft, and officials have said bids must be non-developmental solutions.
The current JSTARS E-8C aircraft are Boeing 707-300s modified by Northrop Grumman for the surveillance mission. The Air Force’s fleet of 18 planes can detect and track ground vehicles, surface ships and both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft.
Although the -700 is the smallest of the company’s 737 series, it is larger than the jets proposed by its likely competitors, Bombardier and Gulfstream. However, Boeing executives believe that the airliner’s size will give the Air Force room for more sensors, computers and other equipment, Meranda said.
At an April industry day, the Air Force listed some key differences between the legacy JSTARS and its recapitalized counterpart. It wants to reduce the crew size from 18 personnel to 13 or fewer and is also considering an aerial refueling capability.
Space, weight, power and cooling will be needed to accommodate those potential requirements, Meranda said.
“You have to power all that stuff. Smaller jets have a hard time based on the size of the engines to go ahead and produce the power and the cooling,” he said. “When you're operating … at 110 degrees, you're going to need cooling.
The reasons the service is opting for a smaller airplane is to reduce operations and sustainment costs, as well as to cut down crew size to about 10 people, Meranda said. “If you can have that same capability and meet those same affordability targets on an airplane just a little bit larger, that gives you margins for growth,” he said.
Meranda stressed that the 737-700 is not much bigger than its competitors. The aircraft is only 10 feet longer from nose to tail than one of Gulfstream’s proposed offerings, the G550, but has more than twice the latter’s internal circumference, he said.
Other vendors have said they will offer smaller business jets for the recap program.
Gulfstream will propose the G550 or G650, the company’s spokesman told National Defense earlier this year. The 100-foot long G650 is larger and faster than the G550, and would offer more space for equipment.
Bombardier may offer the 99-foot long Global 6000 business jet, a version of which has already been modified for the Air Force’s E-11A airborne communications relay aircraft, a spokeswoman has said.
Boeing expects the Air Force to issue concrete requirements by the end of the month, Meranda said. Affordability, endurance and altitude will likely be key items.
Boeing plans on leveraging technology and expertise from the military variants of commercial aircraft that it has developed in the past, such as the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon multi-mission military aircraft based on Boeing’s 737-800 and the C-40 transport plane based on the 737-700, he said. The company could borrow aerial refueling, internal design and integration concepts from the P-8, for instance.
The Air Force has said it will release a request for proposals in early fiscal year 2016, with four new JSTARS aircraft scheduled to reach initial operating capability in fiscal year 2022.