While the Air Force is secure on its JSTARS recapitalization requirements, other Pentagon stakeholders have different ideas, USAF acquisition chief William LaPlante said Tuesday. Speaking with defense reporters on the eve of his resignation, LaPlante said, “there’s still debate in the building outside the Air Force about whether you do this or do other things.” USAF is “completely set” on its vision for JSTARS recap as a command and control/battle management airplane “that happens to have a good GMTI (ground moving target indicator) sensor.” But for other “factions” in the Pentagon—especially the intel community—there are different visions for the system. “There’s people that want to trade it for an unmanned Global Hawk sensor” or to do their particular kind of intelligence, “and that debate keeps opening up.” Still others, LaPlante said, ask “how does JSTARS fit into an [anti-access, area-denial] environment?” The need is urgent, he said, because the fleet starts to “fall out of the sky in 2017.” Capitol Hill is “very supportive, bipartisan, they understand it,” he said, and while industry complains that USAF isn’t “going fast enough … that’s not us.” LaPlante forecast no decision until the Fiscal 2017 President’s Budget is made final, around the end of the year. The debate is hot because while “the budget situation … is vastly better” in FY’16 because of the budget deal, LaPlante said, “for ’17 there’s a huge hole, still. So everybody’s trying to fit all this stuff in.”
The Air Force will begin its 71st annual Operation Christmas Drop on Dec. 4. The weeklong exercise is a yearly tradition that delivers supplies such as food, fishing equipment, school books, and clothes to remote islands in the Pacific. It is the longest-running Department of Defense humanitarian mission.