E-8C is a ground moving target indication (GMTI), airborne battlefield management/command and control platform. Its primary mission is providing theater commanders with ground surveillance data to support tactical operations.
E-8 evolved from the Army/Air Force Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) program. The aircraft made its first radar-equipped test flight in December 1988, and the first two aircraft deployed for Desert Storm while the system was still under development.
Early airframes were eventually retrofit to Block 20 production standards featuring more powerful computers, an internet protocol local area network, and BLOS connectivity.
JSTARS is equipped with a canoe-shaped radome under the forward fuselage housing a 24-ft-long, side-looking phased array radar antenna. It can locate, classify, and track vehicles and ships at distances exceeding 124 miles, and more recent refinements added human-target tracking. Target data is transmitted via data link to ground stations or other aircraft.
USAF began efforts to improve fleetwide availably starting in FY18, aiming to simultaneously have six aircraft deployable by 2022. Obsolescence and depot flow continue to hinder this goal.
USAF dropped plans to replace JSTARS with a modern, business-class aircraft pursuing the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) instead. ABMS would disaggregate JSTARS functions among several platforms, instead of fielding a direct replacement. The service extended JSTARS through the mid-2020s, and Congress blocked retirement until ABMS offers equal or better capability.
Ongoing upgrades include Secure Common Data Link (SDL) for LOS networking to Common Ground Stations and FY21 launches UHF/VHF SATCOM modernization. USAF aims to re-engine the fleet with refurbished JT8D-219 turbofans as a cost-effective interim solution to improve performance and reliability.
Contractors: Northrop Grumman; Raytheon.
First Flight: April 1, 1988.
Delivered: March 22, 1996-March 23, 2005.
IOC: Dec. 18, 1997.
Inventory: 16 (E-8C); one (TE-8).
Aircraft Location: Robins AFB, Ga.
Active Variants: •E-8C. Block 20 upgraded JSTARS platform based on the Boeing 707-300. •TE-8A. Crew training aircraft based on the E-8
Dimensions: Span 145.8 ft, length 152.9 ft, height 42.5 ft.
Weight: Max T-O 336,000 lb.
Power Plant: Four Pratt & Whitney TF33-102C turbojets, each 19,200 lb thrust.
Performance: Speed 584 mph (optimal orbit), range 11 hr normal endurance (longer with air refueling).
Ceiling: 42,000 ft.
Accommodation: Two pilots, navigator, flight engineer, 15 Air Force/three Army mission crew (mission dependent).