With Several New Contracts, the U.S. Air Force’s JSTARS Recap Moves Forward

By Zachary Hofer, Electronic Systems Analyst, Forecast International.

On August 7, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that the U.S. Air Force had awarded funding to three contractors as part of the pre-engineering and manufacturing development efforts for the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System Recapitalization (JSTARS Recap) program. As part of these awards, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman will all develop unique platform solutions for the JSTARS Recap. The three contracts together have a value of $31.4 million.

These awards mark a major step forward in replenishing a program that has been a key part of the U.S. Air Force’s force structure over the past several decades. The Joint Stars Recapitalization effort will design a successor to the original Boeing 707-based JSTARS, which currently performs several critical duties for the USAF, including maintaining battlefield surveillance, targeting, and command and control. To this end, as the 707 and its mission electronics continue to age, providing far lower standards in efficiency and power versus modern platforms, it is crucial that the U.S. find a legitimate successor.

What is known at this time is that whichever platform is chosen, the new aircraft will almost certainly feature a more capable version of the RQ-4 UAV’s ZPY-2 Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP) radar and a newly designed, fully modernized electronics suite. Since the 2000s, the U.S. Air Force has funded efforts to develop and optimize the MP-RTIP for the JSTARS or a similar platform.  At several points in the program’s history, funding for this purpose was canceled or appropriated under other budget items.  In the meantime, a scaled-down version of the MP-RTIP found a place as part of the RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV’s equipment set.

The decision to officially restart the JSTARS Recap was effectively announced as part of the USAF’s FY15 budget request. In it, the Air Force made allowances for its long-expected decision to abandon the JSTARS’ archaic Boeing 707 platform in favor of a contemporary aircraft.  As part of the switchover, the Air Force began investing in overhauling the JSTARS mission suite, including modernizing the system architecture to coexist – on a fundamental basis – with the new network-centric battlefield. These contract awards are part of that effort.

Contractor activities will include assessing the maturity of subsystem technology, reducing weapon system integration risk, and lowering life-cycle costs. The awards are the result of a competitive acquisition, with four offers received.  Contract activity will be managed by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts.

Work under these contracts is expected to be completed by the close of July 2016. However, the JSTARS Recap platforms are not expected to join the USAF fleet until at least 2020.


Full reports on both the MP-RTIP radar and the Joint STARS platform are available in Forecast International’s Airborne Electronics Forecast and Radar Systems Forecast. Please contact our sales team at sales@forecast1.com or +1 203-426-0800 for more information on these products or any one of Forecast International’s many other Aerospace and Defense market analysis products, including the Platinum Forecast System 2.0®. Platinum provides the end-user with customized access to Forecast International’s forecast database, with updates provided on an hourly basis.

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