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Air Force official says funding for new J-STARS planes in doubt

An E-8C aircraft, part of the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System at 116th Air Control Wing, Robins Air Force Base, Ga., pulls away after refueling from a KC-135 Stratotanker with the 459th Air Refueling Wing, Joint Base Andrews, Md., on May 1, 2012. The J-STARS provides ground and air commanders with ground surveillance to support attack operations and targeting.

JEREMY LOCK/U.S. AIR FORCE VIA DVIDS

By WAYNE CRENSHAW | The Macon (Ga.) Telegraph (MCT) | Published: October 8, 2015

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — A top Air Force official said this week that budget concerns might derail an effort to buy new planes for the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System.

William LaPlante, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, said this week that automatic spending cuts, often referred to as sequestration, could put a stop to the replacement plan, according to Defense News.

“It’s a budget issue, so it depends on the sequester and where the priorities are in the department,” he said. “It might not happen at all.”

The Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or J-STARS, is based at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., and has been heavily deployed. It specializes in tracking enemy forces on the ground and relaying that information to combat commanders.

The Air Force has listed getting new J-STARS planes as its fourth highest acquisition priority.

The unit flies planes that are decades old, with some built in the 1960s. The Air Force’s goal to have new planes by 2023 had already been criticized as taking too long, especially considering it was seeking off-the-shelf commercial planes.

J-STARS leaders at Robins declined a request to be interviewed about the status of the replacement effort because of “operational priorities.”

Chrissy Miner, chief of operations for the 21st Century Partnership, which advocates for Robins, said it’s important for decision makers to understand the value of J-STARS.

“We are going to continue to advocate and make sure that everyone who will listen is aware of the criticality of that weapons system,” she said.

Early last year the Air Force announced it was looking to replace the J-STARS E-8C fleet, based on Boeing’s 707 passenger jet, with a commercial business-class jet.

Recently the Air Force issued the first contracts in the process for work related to risk reduction and identifying requirements and costs, but then denied a request to move to the next phase.

Northrop Grumman, Bombardier and Boeing are competing for the contract.

©2015 The Macon (Ga.) Telegraph. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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