WARNER ROBINS — The J-STARS unit at Robins Air Force Base on Thursday surpassed 100,000 combat flying hours since the Sept. 11 attacks.
That’s the equivalent of continuous flying for more than 11 years, said Col. Kevin Clotfelter, commander of the 116th Air Control Wing. The unit has averaged about 20 hours a day in support of combat commanders, he said.
The wing, a Georgia Air National Guard unit, jointly operates J-STARS with the 461st Air Control Wing, an active-duty Air Force unit. The two wings together employ about 2,300 part-time and active-duty airmen, as well as about 60 Army personnel.
“We think it’s a tremendous mark,” Clotfelter said of reaching the milestone. “You don’t accumulate that much time in a short period with just a small group of people. It spans over a decade and across the world. This feat is not just in one location, and it’s serving multiple commanders.”
The J-STARS, or Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, can provide data about enemy movements over a large area. It can simultaneously conduct battle management, surveillance and reconnaissance.
It is so highly valued by ground commanders that at a time when the Air Force is spending little on new aircraft, replacing the decades-old J-STARS fleet has been named the fourth highest acquisition priority.
The milestone was set by a plane flying out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, on a mission for U.S. Central Command. About 88,000 of the flying hours have been done for U.S. Central Command, which includes Iraq, Afghanistan and 18 other countries.
The Department of Defense has requested money in next year’s budget to begin an effort to update the J-STARS planes. The Air Force hopes to replace the converted commercial passenger jets with a smaller, more efficient business-class jet.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., commented on the effort to buy new J-STARS planes. He noted the J-STARS E-8C aircraft were “already an old platform” when the Air Force bought them.
“I just wish we had made the decision that you are making today five years ago,” he told the Air Force’s top leaders. “The demand on J-STARS is very strong, and that demand is not going to weaken.”
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.