The USAF has marked the end of an era in airborne command, control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) operations after the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) fleet flew its final operational mission on September 21.
The flight, which involved E-8C (02-9111/GA) from the 128th Airborne Command and Control Squadron (ACCS) – a component of the Georgia Air National Guard’s (ANG’s) 116th Air Control Wing (ACW) at Robins AFB, Georgia – was carried out from Ramstein Air Base in Germany. This sortie paves the way for the last of the JSTARS fleet to be retired to the Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, in the first week of November. Following this flight, just two E-8Cs remain at Robins to be available for proficiency training purposes until the type’s formal retirement and final ferry flights.
The E-8C flew its last active-duty mission from Ramstein on June 26 after being forward-deployed to Europe from Robins. The aircraft involved (96-0042/GA) was operated by the 10th Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron. This was followed by the active-duty 461st ACW’s 12th ACCS flying its last operational E-8C sortie from Robins on July 12. The retirement of the USAF’s 16-strong E-8C fleet began in February 2022.
The JSTARS fleet was managed by Air Combat Command’s 461st ACW and the Georgia ANG’s 116th ACW, both of which are based at Robins. In 2002, the two units merged as the USAF’s first ‘blended’ total force integrated wing, which has since flown 141,169 flying hours across 14,259 operational sorties in support of every combatant command.
JSTARS aircraft have supported US combat operations since the two E-8A development aircraft were deployed to support Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The E-8C subsequently went on to support operations in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. More recently, the type has been used to monitor events taking place during the Ukraine-Russia War.