Don’t Lose Track

The 1980s-era ground-surveillance and tracking radar system resident on the Air Force’s 17 E-8C Joint STARS aircraft will no longer have replacement parts available to it by around 2012 and will only be able to continue operating by the middle of next decade if Air Force maintainers cannibalize parts from the radar on one Joint STARS aircraft for another. So reported The Hill May 12, citing officials from Northrop Grumman, the radar manufacturer and E-8C prime contractor. The company is using this argument in its pitch to win support on Capitol Hill for funding the remaining development and then the production and installation of a larger version of the new MP-RTIP radar for the Joint STARS fleet. Northrop Grumman and Raytheon are developing the sophisticated MP-RTIP for the Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle. They were also crafting a larger, more powerful version of it for a manned widebody sensor aircraft to succeed Joint STARS and potentially the E-3 AWACS and RC-135 Rivet Joint, but USAF, facing more pressing acquisition priorities, cancelled that project after about $1 billion in investment. Northrop Grumman contends that another $3 billion would cover the activities to finish development and then field the larger variant on all E-8Cs, according to The Hill. After all, the E-8C airframes are viable for another 50 years, the company says. USAF requested no funds for the larger version of MP-RTIP in its Fiscal 2009 budget request, but did ask for $285 million towards it in its Fiscal 2009 unfunded requirements list. The Senate Armed Services Committee added $98 million for it in its mark of the Fiscal 2009 defense authorization bill. USAF has also asked for $178 million for MP-RTIP and $85 million to address diminishing manufacturing sources for the existing Joint STARS radar in the Fiscal 2008 war supplemental, according to the newspaper.