The US Air Force’s fleet of Joint Standoff Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft – 16 E-8Cs and one E-8A – continues to show the effects of years of intense operations. Average airframe age is 47 years and average flight hours is 58,000, the highest in the US Air Force.

Four JSTARS aircraft were grounded for maintenance problems in September, after which the US Air Force started inspections on the remainder. By November half the fleet was complete, revealing additional issues, although none of the issues found required a grounding.

Under the current plan, E-8Cs will start to be retired in FY2019 because as Congress has blocked any earlier retirements. The E-8C’s service life is currently scheduled to end in FY2023, when, under current projections, only two E-8Cs would be flyable. A study on the possibility of extending the service life and the cost involved is underway and is expected to be completed in 2017.

The US Air Force had planned to award a contract for an E-8C replacement in FY2018, which was decided in a threeway competition as part of its JSTARS recapitalisation programme. The new aircraft was scheduled to achieve initial operational capability in FY2023 and full operational capability several years later. However, congressional action – the continuation of sequestration under the provisions of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and the reliance on continuing resolutions that prevent new-start programmes – has called the JSTARS recapitalisation programme schedule into question. David C Isby