So Long, JSTARS: One of the Last E-8s Hits the Highway for its Final Destination

An unusual vehicle made its way down Georgia State Highway 247 on July 16—an E-8C JSTARS aircraft. 

Airmen from the 116th and 461st Air Control Wings helped tow the airframe, tail number 2000, four miles down the road from Robins Air Force Base, Ga., to the local Museum of Aviation, where it will remain on display. The targeting, battle management, and command and control jet was retired in May, a spokesperson for the 78th Air Base Wing told Air & Space Forces Magazine. 

Images shared on social media and with Air & Space Forces Magazine show Airmen working with Georgia Department of Transportation workers and the Houston County Sheriff’s Office to maneuver the 171,000-pound jet past traffic lights and other obstructions.

One image particular shows the aircraft’s nose art and nickname, “The Watchman,” with Col. Christopher Dunlap, commander of the Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th Air Control Wing, and other Airmen involved in the operation. 

The move marks yet another milestone for Robins as it goes through the process of transitioning away from the E-8 and standing up four new missions. In June 2021, the Air Force first announced plans to cut the JSTARS from Robins, which has hosted the aircraft since 1996. 

In its place, Robins is getting a Battle Management Control squadron, an E-11A Battlefield Airborne Communication Node (BACN) squadron, a Spectrum Warfare group, and support units focused on the Advanced Battle Management System. 

The first E-8 departed Robins in February 2022. A month later, the service announced its intent to divest 12 of 16 aircraft in fiscal 2023 and 2024, and Congress expedited the move by repealing a previous law requiring the Air Force to maintain at least six E-8s. 

This past March, the Air Force budget request revealed a plan to accelerate the divestment plan, with the entire fleet retiring by the end of fiscal 2024. Lawmakers have not signaled any interest in blocking those retirements. 

Robins, meanwhile, is winding down its E-8 mission. The 16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron, one of two JSTARS squadrons under the 461st Air Control Wing, was inactivated in February, and the 129th and 330th Combat Training Squadrons flew their final flights the same month. 

Exactly how many E-8s are still in the fleet is unclear. In December, the 78th Air Base Wing said in a release that six had been divested, but a spokesperson declined to offer an exact number this week, citing operational security. With at least one more gone in tail number 2000, though, things are clearly winding down, and the spokesperson confirmed the final retirements are still planned for “early fiscal year 2024,” which starts Oct. 1, 2023. 

The 12th Airborne Command and Control Squadron, the last flying unit left in the 461st Air Control Wing, made its final operational flight July 12. 

Meanwhile, the 18th Airborne Command and Control Squadron and the 728th Battle Control Management Squadron both stood up in February, and the base’s first E-11 Battlefield Airborne Communications Node arrived in April.