Joint STARS

 

What is Joint STARS and what has it to do with Qantas Boeing 707s you might ask. Joint STARS is one of those acronyms which the US military are so good at inventing. It has nothing to do with "Star Wars", the movie or "Star Wars" the defence system, although it does involve advanced technology. Joint STARS (originally JSTARS which is still commonly used today) stands for Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System. Its purely military application is as an air-to-ground surveillance system designed to locate, classify and track multiple ground targets in all weather conditions. The "Joint" part of the acronym reflects the fact that the program was intended to fulfil the needs of both the US Army and Air Force.

As originally conceived, the project was intended to utilise new-build Boeing 707 airframes which were still being produced as the E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft. Unfortunately, budgetary constraints resulted in the choice of decidedly second-hand, high time Boeing 707-320 series airliners which were obtained from multiple sources and designated as E-8. These aeroplanes were completely rebuilt by the prime contractor, Northrop Grumman at facilities in Melbourne, Florida and Lake Charles, Louisiana as well as other sub-contractors. The most notable external feature of the Joint STARS aeroplane is a phased array radar antenna located in a 12 metre long "canoe" radome mounted under the forward fuselage.

Remarkably, of an estimated 22 B707 airframes involved in the E-8 program, the first and third prototypes were former Qantas aeroplanes as were the first five production examples! Why so many former Qantas aeroplanes were chosen is unknown, although it is tempting to suspect that Qantas maintenance standards made them attractive candidates. In reality, all seven aeroplanes had passed through the hands of multiple owners since leaving Qantas service, so their condition could be expected to have deteriorated with the passage of time and the number of owners. However, it is probably reasonable to say that Qantas maintenance standards at least gave them a "head start". It has been reported (Source: 4) that the program stipulated a maximum total time of 50,000 hours and 20,000 cycles. The table below shows that all the Qantas aircraft were well under those limits when they left Qantas service but there are no records available after having passed through several other operators. One exception where figures are available is the former VH-EBV which was well above these limits by the time it reached the USAF. Some aircraft which joined the program later came from one-owner sources such as the Canadian Armed Forces (4) and the Luftwaffe (1) although others were multiple owner examples which were delivered originally to airlines such as Pan Am (1), Air France (1), Alia (1), Wardair (1), World (1) and American Airlines (3).

Although the program was still in its development stages, two Joint STARS aircraft (one being the former VH-EAF) were used with some success in Operation Desert Storm in 1991. After further test and evaluation flying, an E-8A and an E-8C were deployed to Bosnia in December 1995 to March 1996. Other deployments are shown in the table below.

Test and evaluation flying highlighted several shortcomings which were mostly related to the choice of platform (i.e. blame the aeroplane!) It was reported that limited engine power made it difficult to reach the aircraft's normal operating altitude of 36,000 feet, much less the 42,000 feet required by the Joint STARS mission. It was also found that the aircraft needed a runway length of 11,000 feet when taking-off with a fuel load of 140,000 pounds, whereas the standard NATO runway length was 8,000 feet. These shortcomings resulted in a reduction of aircraft converted from an original concept for as many as 35 to the final production run of 13 aircraft (not including the 3 development aircraft).

As early as 1992, it was being suggested that the system should be installed in a more modern airframe such as the Boeing 767-200ER. Nevertheless, the E-8s have continued in service, having been used more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2002, funding was approved for a 17th production aircraft.

The E-8 was originally operated by the 93rd Air Control Wing based at Robbins AFB in Georgia. In 2002 the unit became the 116th Air Control Wing with personnel drawn from active duty and the Air National Guard although still based at Robbins.

On 17 December 2008, the former VH-EAA was rolled out at Northrop Grumman's Melbourne, Florida facility after fitment of Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 engines. Although it was intended that the other aircraft would be similarly modified, funding was not forthcoming and only one aeroplane was modified.

 

QANTAS BOEING 707 IN THE JSTARS PROGRAM
QANTAS REGN
HOURS
CYCLES
INTERVAL
VH-EAA
34398
10698
14
VH-EAB
34274
11882
8
VH-EAF
33163
12959
8
VH-EBT
37492
14033
16
VH-EBU
32283
13206
17
VH-EBV
30484
11537
(Note 4) 15
VH-EBW
27442
9929
19

 

NOTES
1
Interval is approximate years between Qantas and JSTARS.
2
Hours and Cycles are at the end of Qantas service.
3
Hours are rounded.
4
On sale to the USAF, the former VH-EBV is reported to have had a total time of 62750 hours and 20446 cycles. (Source: 10)

 

JSTARS DEPLOYMENTS
12JAN91
The two E-8As arrived at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia having been removed from their evaluation program to participate in Operation Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait from occupying Iraqi forces.
14JAN91
The first E-8A mission was flown on Operation Desert Storm.
28FEB91
By the end of February the E-8s had completed 49 missions totalling 535 hours with operational availability exceeding 80%.
DEC95
One E-8A and one E-8C were deployed on Operation Joint Endeavour to monitor the peace in Bosnia
DEC95
Both aircraft were recalled to the US after 95 sorties.
SEP96
Both aircraft were recalled to Bosnia for Operation Joint Guard.
19JUN98
Operation Joint Guard ended.
MAR99
Two E-8 deployed to Rhein-Main AFB, Germany on Operation Allied Force for further operations in Yugoslavia.
10JUN99
Operation Allied Force ended.
07OCT01
In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Operation Enduring Freedom commenced with E-8 based at Al Udeid AFB, Qatar for operations against terrorist forces in Afghanistan. Operation Enduring Freedom lasted until 28 December 2014.
20MAR03
Several E-8 were deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Iraqi Freedom which commenced on this date.
01SEP10
Operation Iraqi Freedom ended.
01SEP10
Operation New Dawn commenced covering the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.
23MAR11
One E-8C was deployed to Rota, Spain on Operation Unified Protector which began on this date fighting the Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi.
31OCT11
Operation Unified Protector ended.
11JAN13
Operation Serval began at the request of the French government against Islamic militants in Mali.
15JUN14
Operation Inherent Resolve commenced counter-terrorist activities against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
15JUL14
Operation Serval ended.
JAN15
Operation Enduring Freedom was replaced by Operation Freedom's Sentinel for continued counter-terrorist activities in Afghanistan.
Sources: 4 & 12

 

 

 

USAF
TYPE
CONV. NO
BOEING
MSN
ORIG ID
OWNER
REMARKS
-
-
-
707-338C
19628
VH-EAH
QANTAS
-
Registered N780JS to Boeing Military or Northrop Grumman. (Source: 5 does not show a name or date).
This aircraft was not accepted into the Joint STARS program.
-
Subsequently became TF-IUD and 5A-DTF.
25JUL05
Registration N780JS was finally cancelled. (Source: 5).
(See also Issue #5)
00
5A-DTF was withdrawn from service and the aircraft was last reported derelict at Tripoli. (Source: 9)
Full history of VH-EAH
86-0416
E-8A
FSD-1
T-1
707-338C
19626
VH-EAF
QANTAS
-
Registered N770JS. (Source: 5 does not show a date)
AUG87
Delivered to USAF as EC-18C.
22DEC88
First Flown.
FEB90
European trials until MAR90.
91
Desert Storm.
Full history of VH-EAF
86-0417
E-8A
TE-8A
FSD-2
T-2
707-323C
19574
N8411
American
NOV88
Delivered to USAF as EC-18C.
31AUG89
First Flown as E-8A.
SEP90
European trials.
91
Desert Storm.
00
Broken up by Northrop Grumman at Melbourne FL.
88-0322 YE-8B
-
E-6A/YE-8B
24503
-
12JUN90
First Flown as the sole YE-8B. The aircraft had been taken from the E-6A production line. The E-8B was intended to use new-build airframes with F108 engines but the program was cancelled in favour of using refurbished airframes. After a period of storage at Davis-Monthan the aircraft was delivered to the Royal Saudi Air Force as an E-3A Sentry serial number 1902. (Source: 4 & 6)
02FEB96
Registered N707UM to Raytheon E Systems. (Source: 5)
14FEB01
Cancelled from the FAA Register on export to Saudi Arabia. (Source: 5)
90-0175
E-8C
TE-8C
FSD-3
T-3
707-338C
19621
VH-EAA
QANTAS
-
Registered N526SJ (Source: 5 shows no date)
MAR94
Delivered to USAF.
-
Test bed owned by Northrop Grumman.
OCT96
Operation Joint Endeavour, Bosnia .
-
Named "Eye in the Sky".
21DEC08
Test flown at Melbourne, Florida after being fitted with P&W JT8D-219 engines. (Source: 1)
11
The program to retrofit P&W JT8D-219 engines to the rest of the E-8C fleet was cancelled because of a lack of funding. (Source: 4)
29APR13
Cancelled from FAA Register. (Source: 5)
01JAN14
Retired. (Source: 6)
21JAN15
Arrived at AMARG. (Source: 13)
Full history of VH-EAA
92-3289
E-8C
P-1
707-338C
19622
VH-EAB
QANTAS
29MAY92
Registered N4131G to Grumman Aerospace. (Source: 5)
26OCT95
Cancelled from FAA Register. (Source: 5)
11JUN96
Delivered to USAF.
OCT96
Operation Joint Endeavour, Bosnia.
-
Named "Belle of Middle Georgia".
Full history of VH-EAB
92-3290
E-8C
P-2
707-338C
19295
VH-EBV
QANTAS
30JUN92
Registered N4115J to Grumman Aerospace. (Source: 5)
30OCT95
Registration cancelled. (Source: 5)
13DEC96
Delivered to USAF.
DEC96
Operation Joint Endeavour, Bosnia.
-
Carries nose art resembling a deck of cards. No name discernible.
Full history of VH-EBV
93-0597
E-8C
P-3
707-338C
19294
VH-EBU
QANTAS
18MAY92
Arrived at AMARC Davis Monthan as G-EOCO.
17JUN93
Departed AMARC for Lake Charles as 67-30053 for conversion to E-8C.
25NOV97
Delivered to USAF as 93-0597.
13MAR09
Suffered structural damage to No 2 main wing tank during aerial refuelling out of Al Udeid, Qatar. The aircraft was subsequently parted out and broken up at Al Udeid.
Full history of VH-EBU
93-1097
E-8C
P-4
707-338C
19296
VH-EBW
QANTAS
04FEB94
Registered N6546L to Grumman Aerospace. (Source: 5)
26OCT95
Registration cancelled. (Source: 5)
98
Delivered to USAF.
NOV01
Operation Enduring Freedom.
Full history of VH-EBW
94-0284
E-8C
P-5
707-338C
19293
VH-EBT
QANTAS
-
Registered N2178F. (Source: 5 shows no record)
99
Delivered to USAF.
NOV01
Operation Enduring Freedom.
-
Named "Problem Child".
Full history of VH-EBT
94-0285
E-8C
P-6
707-373C
19442
N370WA
World
14APR92
Registered N760FW to Omega Air. (Source: 5)
22MAR93
Registration cancelled. (Source: 5)
17JUN93
Departed AMARC for Lake Charles as 67-30054.
99
Delivered to USAF as 94-0285.
-
Named "Radar Love".
95-0122
E-8C
P-7
707-3D3C
20495
JY-ADP
Alia
03JUL92
To USAF as 71-1841 (Source: 8)
00
Delivered to USAF as 95-0122.
95-0121
E-8C
P-8
707-321C
20016
N870PA
Pan Am
07JUN91
Registered N527SJ to Comtran. (Source: 5)
22MAR93 Registration cancelled. (Source: 5)
-
Registered N770FW. (Source: 5 has no record)
-
To USAF as 68-11174.
00
Delivered to USAF as 95-0121.
96-0042
E-8C
P-9
707-347C
CC-137
20319
13705
C.A.F.
29APR95 Placed in storage by the C.A.F. Was the last operational CC-137. (Source: 11)
24SEP05
Extensively damaged by Hurricane Rita at the Northrop Grumman facility at Lake Charles Chennault, LA. when the hangar doors blew in. (Source: 6 & 7)
-
Repaired and returned to service.
-
One of the E-8Cs is named "Night Stalker". It is believed to apply to this aircraft but this is subject to confirmation.
96-0043
E-8C
P-10
707-347C
CC-137
20316
13702
C.A.F.
12JAN93 Placed in storage by the C.A.F. (Source: 11)
SEP95
Registered EL-AKT to Omega Air. (Source: 9)
NOV97
Delivered to USAF. (Source: 4)
-
One of the E-8Cs is named "Gremlin". It is believed to apply to this aircraft but this is subject to confirmation.
97-0100
E-8C
P-11
707-355C
19986
F-BJCM
Air France
14JUL95
Registered N707MB to Omega Air. (Source: 5)
22FEB96
Registration cancelled. (Source: 5)
06AUG01
Delivered to USAF.
-
Named "The Last Laugh".
97-0200 E-8C
P-12
707-347C
CC-137
20317
13703
C.A.F.
27FEB97
Struck off by C.A.F. (Source: 11)
14APR97
Ferried to Lake Charles. (Source: 11)
27NOV01
Delivered to USAF.
97-0201
E-8C
P-13
707-347C
CC-137
20318
13704
C.A.F.
24FEB97
Struck off by C.A.F. (Source: 11)
14APR97
Ferried to Lake Charles. (Source: 11)
25APR02
Delivered to USAF.
99-0006
E-8C
P-14
707-307C
19998
10+02
Luftwaffe
99
Retired by the Luftwaffe.
-
To USAF as 68-11072.
19AUG02
Delivered to USAF as 99-0006.
00-2000 E-8C
P-15
707-396C
20043
CF-ZYP
Wardair
12MAY81
Seized by the US Justice Dept after a drug smuggling incident while registered as OE-IEA. (Source: 6)
-
To USAF as C-137C 85-6973. (Source: 6)
25FEB03
Converted to E-8C and delivered to USAF as E-8C 00-2000.
-
Carries nose art with no name discernible.
-
Retired to AMARC. (Source: 6)
01-2005 E-8C
P-16
707-323C
19382
N7567A
American A/L
02FEB82
To USAF as C-18B 81-0892. (Source: 9)
01MAR04
Delivered to USAF as E-8C 01-2005.
24SEP05
Damaged by Hurricane Rita at the Northrop Grumman facility at Lake Charles Chennault, LA. (Source: 6)
-
Named "Jay Pig".
02-9111 E-8C
P-17
707-323C
19581
N8401
American A/L
20JUL82
To USAF as EC-18B 81-0896 range instrumentation aircraft. (Source: 6 & 9)
22MAR05
Delivered to USAF as E-8C. (Source: 2)
-
Named "Pride of Lake Charles". (Source: 4)

 

VH-EAF
86-0416

VH-EAA
90-0175

VH-EAA
90-0175

VH-EBV
92-3290

VH-EBV
92-3290

VH-EBT
94-0284

VH-EBT
94-0284


SOURCES
1
USAF press release.
2
Northrop Grumman press release.
3
Joint STARS www.globalsecurity.org
4
Santana, Sergio, 2019, E-8 JSTARS, Schiffer Publishing.
Caution: The production list on the last page has 12 errors.
5
FAA Register.
6
Joe Baugher http://www.joebaugher.com/usaf_serials/usafserials.html
7
Aviation Letter 467/7
8
https://www.planelogger.com/Aircraft/ConstructionList/707+720+E-3A
9
Freebird Aviation Database
10
Aviation Letter 308/13
11
http://www.rwrwalker.ca/CF_CC_137.html
12
Wikipedia
13
http://www.amarcexperience.com/

 

Issue
Date
Remarks
7
15JUN20
Major update from sources shown. The table of aircraft has been reformatted for clarity.
6
08SEP12
Added the name "Belle of Middle Georgia" for 92-3289.
5
13APR11
Some sources state that MSN 19628 (VH-EAH) was scrapped by Northrop Grumman at Melbourne, Florida as N780JS. Photographic evidence that the aircraft is still in Libya as 5A-DTF suggests that the aircraft was not accepted for the Joint STARS program but instead became TF-IUD and 5A-DTF. Thanks to Jim Tomlinson for pointing out the anomaly.
4
25OCT10
Major update to reflect the full production of 17 aircraft. Additional information drawn from http://www.targetlock.org.uk/e-8/production.html
3
22OCT10
Added one image of the former VH-EBV and two images of the former VH-EBT thanks to Jim and Jacob Forst.
2
24OCT05
Added a reference to 96-0042 (a non-Qantas aircraft) being damaged by Hurricane Rita.
1
30MAR05
Original issue