BY WAYNE CRENSHAW, wcrenshaw@macon.com

September 17, 2018 05:33 PM

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, GA

The Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System sits in an isolated area on the back side of Robins and for many years has mostly operated independent of the rest of the base, but not anymore.

J-STARS and the massive maintenance area on the opposite side of the runway are now welded together. For the first time a J-STARS plane is undergoing depot maintenance at Robins.

While the J-STARS maintainers do the field maintenance required to keep the planes flying, depot maintenance is a complete overhaul of an aircraft that involves tearing it down to its bones and inspecting components piece by piece. It’s expected to take 10 months.

Previously the well-traveled E-8C planes have undergone depot maintenance at a Northrop Grumman facility in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Northrop Grumman will continue doing depot maintenance on J-STARS planes, but Robins will now also do about one per year to help keep more of the small fleet available for combat operations, said Brig. Gen. John Kubinec, commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex.

“Our combatant commanders need this platform and they need it around the world,” Kubinec said as he checked out progress of the work Monday. “We need to get as many aircraft into the fight as possible so the Air Force asked us to help get more aircraft availability and more readiness to the operational unit at Robins.”

The National Defense Authorization Act approved by Congress this year killed a program to buy new planes for J-STARS, but it also required the Air Force to keep flying the current aircraft until 2028 while a replacement system, to be based at Robins, becomes operational. The act requires the Air Force to keep six J-STARS planes available to commanders at all times.

Kubinec said about 80 new jobs are being created at the base as a result of the work, and hiring is still going on. When the J-STARS planes are finally retired, those workers will be moved to other areas.

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