House and Senate lawmakers in the negotiated version of their respective fiscal 2019 defense policy bills have agreed to prohibit the Air Force from retiring its current fleet of ground-surveillance planes until 2028 while authorizing funding to advance the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) update program, according to Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.)

Scott, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a Monday statement that the negotiated National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) cuts $623 million in funding from the House’s version of the bill to replace the Air Force’s E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) legacy fleet.

An E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft. Photo: Air Force.
An E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft. Photo: Air Force.

The House is expected to vote on the conferenced version of NDAA this week (Defense Daily, July 19).

“Seventeen new planes were planned for the recapitalization program. Due to the aging condition of the airframes and factoring in the cost and low availability of the legacy JSTARS as well as continued maintenance and depot overhauls, the legacy fleet has the potential to cost more than the new aircraft.  Recapitalization would provide a higher quality, lower risk mission for a lower cost over the next decade,” Scott said in a statement.

House lawmakers had pushed for the Air Force to maintain its program to replace its 16 E-8C’s, built by Northrop Grumman [NOC], with new aircraft beginning in the early 2020’s. Boeing [BA], Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Northrop Grumman have been competing to build the JSTARS replacement (Defense Daily, April 25).

The negotiated bill allows the Air Force to move funding from JSTARS replacement program toward developing ABMS, which allows for threat information to be collected from various airborne and other sensors. The Air Force would then be allowed to phase out JSTARS once ABMS reaches certain operational benchmarks or once that 2028 deadline is reached.

The Senate’s original version of the bill included funding for ABMS while calling on the Air Force to stop replacing JSTARS.

In his statement, Scott pointed to Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), also a member of the NDAA conference, who withdrew his support for the JSTARS replacement program despite previously offering his support as part of the Georgia congressional delegation.

“This missed opportunity will put at risk our men and women in theater who rely on the unique capabilities of the JSTARS. I hope Senator Perdue is willing to come back to the table and fight for the 116th and 461st Air Control Wings, and I stand willing and ready to work with him to correct this mistake,” Scott said.

The FY 18 NDAA included $417 million for the JSTARS recapitalization effort.

“This decision nullifies these funding dedications for recapitalization and endangers our men and women in theater who rely on the JSTARS for its unique airborne battle management, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities,” Scott said.