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Air Force Cancels JSTARS, Will Keep Cold War-Era B-52s Flying

February 13, 2018 | By | Reply More

THE PENTAGON — The Air Force is canceling a recapitalization of its airborne command and surveillance aircraft, budget documents showed Monday, and plans to retire newer bombers but keep the Cold War-era Boeing (BA) B-52s flying.

X The Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System is not funded in the 2019 presidential budget, two days after Defense News reported that the Air Force is canceling the JSTARS program in favor of linking systems together to perform the same tasks.

“It’s got to be survivable, that is the key. If we recap current JSTARS we have an aircraft that does what it does now,” Air Force Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget, Maj. Gen. John Pletcher, told reporters. “It’s probably  able to do less because we’ll be in a more competitive, contested environment.”

Boeing, Lockheed Martin (LMT) and Northrop Grumman (NOC) were leading teams with bids for the $ 7 billion new aircraft program to replace the current fleet of Northrop  E-8s.

The service is unsure what the new family of platforms might look like. Pletcher said it could include putting current sensors on drones like the MQ-9 Reaper or other assets in space or on the ground.

The cancellation of the JSTARS recap wasn’t a surprise as the Air Force has been critical of the platform since last fall.

In November, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the current system of one large plane with a radar system on its belly meets less than 5% of a combatant commander’s requirements. But the JSTARS replacement, also envisioned as a large plane, would meet less than 1% of requirements under current threats.

This came after Defense Secretary James Mattis said in September that he has talked to the Air Force chief of staff about “new ways” to perform a key airborne command and control “mission.”

“Boeing understands the U.S. Air Force has many competing priorities to address within the budget,” Boeing said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the U.S. Air Force as it defines its path forward.”

Boeing, a Dow Jones component, rose 3.3% on the stock market today. Lockheed advanced 1.3%, and Northrop Grumman gained 1.4%. All three companies have relative strength lines at record highs, signaling strong performance vs. the S&P 500 index.

There is still a chance the program goes forward if Congress pushes back on the decision in the final budget.


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The Air Force  is getting more planes in the 2019 budget, requesting $ 10.7 billion for 77 Lockheed F-35s, $ 2 billion for 24 Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets and $ 3 billion for 15 Boeing KC-46 tankers.

The service also announced that it will begin retiring the Rockwell Collins (COL) B-1 and Northrop B-2 bomber fleets once Northrop starts deliveries of its secretive B-21 be in the mid-2020s.

“As part of our decisions presented in the FY19 President’s Budget, the Air Force will update the B-52 bomber fleet and fund development of replacement engines,” Wilson said in a statement. “We will also continue necessary B-1 and B-2 modifications to keep them relevant until the B-21s come on line.”

The decision to keep the older B-52 and not the newer B-1s and B-2s was due to maintenance, total cost and mission capability, according to the Air Force’s statement.

Overall, the 2019 presidential budget’s $ 686 billion defense spending plan would also give troops a 2.6% pay raise and add 16,400 service members to the ranks.

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