The E-8 Joint STARS fleet is one of the busiest platforms in Southwest Asia, having racked up more than 37,000 flight hours in combat so far. Northrop Grumman officials said Thursday in Orlando that the in-demand ground surveillance aircraft, based on a Boeing 707 airframe and first fielded in 1996, is aging well all except for its engines. Dave Nagy, Northrop’s VP for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, told reporters at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium that he expects a new contract award in the next 30 to 60 days to continue work begun last year toward re-engining the fleet. “We have to get new engines,” Nagy said, adding that the Air Force understands that the the original Pratt & Whitney JT3D engines are the No. 1 driver of lower mission capable rates. Depot maintenance costs associated with the engines increased from $264,000 in 2002 to $1.3 million in 2007. Most Joint STARS aircraft in the Southwest Asia theater must take off with a partial fuel load, due to stresses on the engines—creating operational limits since they must wait on tanker support. While the funding for the next few fiscal years has not been finalized yet, Nagy said that if money is lined up in a budget plan Northrop Grumman could have the 17 E-8C aircraft completely re-engined in as little as 22 months with P&W’s JT8D-219 engine.
Three B-1B Lancers from the 7th Bomb Wing flew over the Indo-Pacific alongside F-16s from the Japanese Air Self Defense Force recently, as part of a joint large force exercise. The mission began and ended in the continental U.S., as the bombers flew 31 hours and landed Jan. 11.