June 6, 2017

By: Leigh Giangreco

The US Air Force will move ahead with its existing JSTARS recapitalisation strategy, even as a recent report indicates some aircraft in the fleet could fly longer.

In March, the service completed a fuselage widespread fatigue study to determine the service life of individual JSTARS aircraft.

Based on data provided by Boeing, which manufactured the original 707-300 airframe, the programme office determined the service life of fuselage is several years longer than previously expected, according to a document obtained by FlightGlobal.

The service will not conduct a service life extension programme (SLEP) on the existing JSTARS fleet, the document states.

The E-8C fleet, which is composed of 16 individual aircraft with varying maintenance issues and track records, was set to phase out from Fiscal 2017 through 2022. But the study’s results extended the service life projections from FY2023 through FY2034.

The USAF did not detail how many aircraft in the fleet will be available through 2034. Boeing plans to complete additional studies to assess remaining structural areas, such as the wings.

Still, the USAF does not plan to change its JSTARS recapitalisation strategy given current aircraft availability.

The USAF anticipates a contract award for a new JSTARS platform in FY2018 and plans to reach initial operational capability by the last quarter of FY2024. Due to ongoing delays with maintenance at Northrop Grumman’s sustainment facility in Lake Charles, Louisiana, aircraft availability remains low with 42% of aircraft in the depot today.

“Aircraft availability continues to decrease and sustainment costs are unsupportable,” the document states. “These two factors were the catalyst for initiating the JSTARS recapitalisation programme.”

Unlike the air force’s EC-130H Compass Call cross-deck effort, which will move old mission systems onto a new platform, the JSTARS recapitalisation is meant to overhaul the entire weapon system, USAF chief of staff Gen David Goldfein told reporters following a 6 June Congressional hearing. The USAF examines extending aircraft service life through rigorous testing, which helps the service identify items that will likely break and should be funded in the future, Goldfein says.

“We only fund against what we predict and then you’ve seen in the past all of a sudden a part on an F-15C comes out and we haven’t manufactured that in the last five or 10 years,” he says. “So the reality is, we have to look at how we extend the weapon system, but it does not change the strategy at all about how we recapitalize to get into a new aircraft.”