Defending JSTARS Recapitalization

Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh defended the planned modernization of the E-8 Joint STARS fleet Thursday despite push back from some members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) questioned why the Air Force did an about-face regarding JSTARS recapitalization, noting that in 2012 then-Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said USAF couldn’t afford it. Nelson also said it seemed a bit aggressive to expect the first jets to arrive by 2019, especially considering the Air Force is planning to field the new KC-46 tanker, the F-35 strike fighter, a Long-Range Strike Bomber, and a new trainer during the same time period. Welsh said he didn’t want to speak for Schwartz but that the statements were made before sequestration entered into full effect. “We have the option of not modernizing at all,” Welsh said, but the combatant commanders have made it clear to USAF that this is an “unacceptable” path. The Air Force, as a result, plans on integrating an advanced radar, ground moving target indicator, and battle management system on a smaller business-class jet aircraft. “We are going to trade (capability) in this area,” Welsh said of the JSTARS mission, taking funds from other areas such as the E-3 budget line. A new JSTARS capability is a must by the end of the decade, as the current fleet will not be able to operate in certain scenarios in another decade, Welsh noted. (Welsh prepared testimony.)