The Air Force is promising new missions for Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, the longtime home of the E-8C Joint STARS, as the service looks to retire the old aircraft in favor of its Advanced Battle Management System program.
The Air Force’s budget proposal, released May 28, aims to cut the first four of its 16 JSTARS. The Air Force plans to replace the aircraft with ABMS, a push to use emerging technologies and artificial intelligence to connect sensors and shooters for a broader, more advanced look at battle management and command and control.
Robins is home to about 2,000 Active-duty and National Guard members who have flown the JSTARS since 1996. Acting Air Force Secretary John P. Roth, in a Robins press release coinciding with the budget announcement, said newer missions are needed as the country expects to be challenged by China and Russia.
“Those threats require new solutions, which means divesting legacy platforms like the JSTARS,” Roth said. “However, our intent is to capitalize on the existing expertise at Team Robins as we bring on these new missions. These missions will play a vital role in how we achieve decision superiority across all domains.”
If the JSTARS cuts are approved, new missions for Robins will include:
- An Air Control Squadron. The base would host a unit that would provide command and control of aircraft in U.S. Central Command, according to the release. This unit, the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron, known as “Kingpin,” had historically operated at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, and recently moved operations to Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.
- ABMS and Joint All-Domain Command and Control Support. ABMS is in its nascent stages, with its current funding limited by Congress, though the Air Force is hoping to be able to buy its first hardware in late 2022, a communications pod for the KC-46 tanker that will enable the F-22 and F-35 to talk to each other. Robins would host some of that mission. The plan, outlined in the press release, is for existing manpower to transfer to a “classified mission in support of future capabilities” associated with JADC2 and ABMS.
- An E-11 Squadron. The E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communication node, a fleet of four modified Bombardier Global Express business jets, has been flown by the 430th Expeditionary Combat Squadron at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. With the war in Afghanistan drawing to a close, the aircraft would then be based at Robins. The Air Force in its budget request calls for buying another airframe to replace the one that crashed in Afghanistan in January 2020.
- A Spectrum Warfare Group. The Air Force would create a group of squadrons, made up of Active-duty Airmen and civilians, to “take advantage of the skills” in the region, such as software and hardware experts, to focus on the electromagnetic spectrum.
“These cutting-edge missions, and the Team Robins Airmen that would execute them, are exactly what the Air Force needs to be ready for the threats we anticipate in the future,” Roth said in the release.