Recapitalizing Electronic Warfare, ISR Fleets

The Air Force needs to start planning the recapitalization of some of its core electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets, which are nearing the end of their service lives, Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said Sept. 15 at ASC15. The E-8 JSTARS fleet has been a “workhorse” over the past 25 years, but USAF can’t meet global requirements because the small fleet is getting too old and too expensive to operate, he said. “We have people who are not in the [combatant commands] or the Air Force asking, ‘Is there a requirement for it’?” Welsh said. “There is.” The JSTARS recapitalization is coming into the budget in Fiscal 2016, and the Air Force “has to get this done.” The EC-130 Compass Call electronic warfare capability has been a “silent hero” over Afghanistan and Iraq, Welsh noted, adding it’s also been incredibly successful. But, USAF needs to transition the capabilities on the fleet to a “different platform, or several different platforms, and we’ve got to figure out how to do that.” If the Air Force can’t retire the fleet, when they time out “we are out of luck,” he added. He also said the service is building an early plan to recap the “super star” E-3 Sentry fleet this year, and will have to see where funding will emerge long term to replace the airborne command and control platform. “This is not a this year problem, but it’s coming sooner than you think,” he added.