The E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) is a United States Air Force battle management and command and control aircraft that tracks ground vehicles and some aircraft, collects imagery, and relays tactical pictures to ground and air theater commanders.
Joint STARS evolved from separate United States Army and Air Force programs to develop, detect, locate and attack enemy armor at ranges beyond the forward area of troops. In 1982, the programs were merged and the U.S. Air Force became the lead agent. The concept and sensor technology for the E-8 was developed and tested on the Tacit Blue experimental aircraft. The prime contract was awarded to Grumman Aerospace Corporation in September 1985 for two E-8A development systems. These aircraft were deployed in 1991 to participate in Operation Desert Storm under the direction of Albert J. Verderosa, even though they were still in development. The joint program accurately tracked mobile Iraqi forces, including tanks and Scud missiles. Crews flew developmental aircraft on 49 combat sorties, accumulating more than 500 combat hours and a 100% mission effectiveness rate.
Joint STARS developmental aircraft also participated in Operation Joint Endeavor, a NATO peacekeeping mission, in December 1995. While flying in friendly air space, the test-bed E-8A and pre-production E-8C aircraft monitored ground movements to confirm compliance with the Dayton Peace Treaty agreements. Crews flew 95 consecutive operational sorties and more than 1,000 flight hours with a 98% mission effectiveness rate.
The E-8C is a modified Boeing 707-300 series commercial airframe that carries specialized radar, communications, operations and control subsystems. The most prominent external feature is the 12 m (40 ft) canoe-shaped radome under the forward fuselage that houses the 7.3 m (24 ft) side-looking APY-7 phased array antenna.
The USAF has selected Pratt & Whitney to replace the engines of its 19 Joint STARS aircraft. Pratt & Whitney, in a joint venture with Seven Q Seven (SQS), will produce and deliver JT8D-219 engines. Their greater efficiency will allow the Joint STARS to spend more time on station, take off from a wider range of runways, climb faster, fly higher all with a much reduced cost per flying hour. Joint STARS is to be used until 2025. As of 24 October 2008, all four Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 engines have been removed from the B707-330C testbed, N707HE, for installation on the Joint STARS test aircraft for evaluation.
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