AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --
The 7th Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron flew the Air Force’s E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or JSTARS, worldwide fleet to its one millionth flight hour September, 6, 2016, following a combat mission in support of operations throughout the U.S. Air Forces Central Command area of responsibility.
The milestone concluded with a training sortie at the unit’s home station, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.
The JSTARS here have completed nearly 3,000 combat hours to date this year in support of Coalition operations throughout the region.
“Simply put, JSTARS finds things and solves operational problems in the air and on the ground,” said Lt. Col. William Hartman, commander of the 7th EACCS. “JSTARS battle managers use our ground surveillance radar to detect, disrupt and ultimately destroy Daesh forces in Iraq and Syria in partnership with our Air Coalition strike assets every day while also providing support and over-watch of friendly forces in Afghanistan.”
Driving those capabilities is the unique radar system onboard the aircraft that is able to find, track and classify ground movements in all conditions deep behind enemy lines. The detailed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information provided by the JSTARS to theater ground and air commanders directly contributed to more than 15,000 air strikes conducted during Operation Inherent Resolve, ultimately shaping and clearing Daesh’s operations across the region.
The platform also boasts a robust communication suite, which allows it to execute airborne command and control to boost force protection, defensive operations, over-watch and combat search and rescue missions.
The Air Force’s JSTARS fleet of only 16 aircraft has, in its combined lifetime, flown in excess of one million flight hours. If flown continuously, that would be equal to more than 114 years of non-stop flight time.
To achieve such a legacy milestone, the fleet relies on its Airmen’s ingenuity to make the impossible, possible.
The JSTARS maintenance crews navigate a variety of issues daily in the desert environment here to ensure the 1960s-era aircraft are available to meet theater requirements.
“Despite a limited amount of people and available aircraft, we take pride in ensuring that ground forces receive JSTARS support overhead each and every day,” said Master Sgt. Jeremy Shores, 7th Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron production superintendent.
“To make this happen, our maintainers work long hours in a hot and dusty environment with heat indexes well above 130 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Shores. “Day-in and day-out they excel in making sure items are fixed right the first time.”
Maintaining an aircraft that is older than the Airmen who work on it can be a challenge. The JSTARS fleet is comprised of Boeing 707 airliners manufactured in the 1960s. The aircraft already had between 20 to 60 thousand flight hours prior to being converted to JSTARS. Repurposed, the average aircraft in the fleet has logged more than 60,000 flight hours.
“Due to the age of our aircraft and its uniqueness, there is a severe shortage of spare parts. We overcome this through the vast experience our Total Force Integration team brings to the table,” Shores said.
The Total Force Integration team is currently comprised of Active Duty personnel, Georgia Air National Guardsmen and a small component of Reservists.
“Success comes with a price, and that price is wear and tear on our tired fleet,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Davis, 7th EACCS director of operations. “We could not do this without the experience and tenacity of our TFI maintenance team.”