by Justin Oakes
66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
1/13/2016 - HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. -- Communication is key.
And for the Air Force's Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System
aircraft, its communication component is one of four major areas
undergoing a combined multi-billion dollar recapitalization.
Since JSTARS's introduction in 1991, Air Force command posts, Army
mobile ground stations and many airborne platforms have come to rely on
the information passed through the aircraft's communication system to
make informed decisions on the battlefield.
Leading the charge on the communication system's revamp is a specialized
defense acquisition team based out of Hanscom Air Force Base,
"Command and control is an integral part of JSTARS," said 1st Lt. George
Steele, a program systems engineer for the JSTARS Recapitalization.
"Without effective communication systems and equipment, it would be
impossible for JSTARS to perform its intelligence, surveillance and
The current E-8C JSTARS, which is equipped onto a Boeing 707 airframe,
conveys real-time targeting information to allied forces using
line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight secure data and voice links -- a
capability that has evolved from Army and Air Force programs' desire to
develop, detect, locate and attack enemy forces beyond the area of
With the new communications system, "we intend to incorporate both LOS
and BLOS data and voice links similar to the legacy aircraft, utilizing
ultra-high frequency, very ultra-high frequency and high-frequency
encrypted systems," Steele said.
As far as data is concerned, information will pass through satellite
communication channels and the Common Data Link, a U.S. military
developed protocol used to transfer images and intelligence signals.
In order to acquire these capabilities in a timely manner, Hanscom
program officials will be taking a unique approach by embracing modern,
existing technology, which will eliminate the need to develop components
"There have been major technological advances since JSTARS was first
introduced and deployed to Operation Desert Storm," Steele said. "By
using current and emerging systems, it will allow for increased
capability while reducing size, weight and power to the overall
In addition to using readily available government and
commercial-off-the-shelf products, the JSTARS Recap team plans to
incorporate hardware and software geared toward open systems
architecture. Meaning, when modifications or upgrades to the
communications system are needed in the future, updates can be made with
greater flexibility and lower cost.
"There are many benefits of using a modular open systems architecture,"
said Col. David Learned, JSTARS Recap program manager. "We have to
consider how our investments today will impact the affordability and
agility of JSTARS Recap throughout its system life cycle. That's why we
are incorporating this type of architecture into many of the JSTARS
components, not just the communications subsystem."
The JSTARS Recapitalization program recently passed from the Materiel
Solutions Analysis phase to the Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction
phase, upon an OSD-approved Milestone A decision Dec. 10, 2015.
Milestone A will allow the Air Force to exercise options on three
existing contracts to further risk reduction efforts. The three separate
options have a combined value of $45 million and will provide system
functional, preliminary design reviews and subsystem prototype
According to Steele, the team is working hand-in-hand with industry
through a series of face-to-face meetings, site visits and Hanscom
AFB-hosted "industry days."
The JSTARS Recap team is also working with federally-funded research and
development centers, Air Force Test Labs and industry defense
contractors to evaluate and ensure the future needs of the JSTARS weapon
system are met.
In the end, the communications system found on the JSTARS aircraft will
allow for simultaneous voice and data transmission across battlespace.
"We're building a new system for the long haul," Steele said. "One thing
is certain, the modernized version will allow JSTARS to have a major
impact on current and future operations."
(Editor's note: this is the second story in a series on JSTARS Recapitalization)