The future of the Air Force effort to replace its legacy E-8C joint surveillance target attack radar system aircraft with new capabilities is cloudy as lawmakers differ on next steps.
The service had planned to buy 17 new planes for the JSTARS recapitalization at an estimated cost of $6.9 billion. Northrop Grumman, Boeing and Lockheed Martin were pursuing the contract award.
However, in its fiscal year 2019 budget request the Air Force called for scrapping the recap and instead developing an "advanced battle management system," or ABMS, that officials believe would be more effective and survivable in warfare against advanced adversaries.
"JSTARS is going to have a hard time being able to get close [to the fight] and stay close enough to be effective," Gen. James "Mike" Holmes, commander of Air Combat Command, said during a recent meeting with reporters in Washington, D.C.
"We think we can spend that [modernization] money more wisely by getting to an ability to find ground targets all over the world all the time, by linking the things that we have together and by acquiring new things that we would link together," he added.
Some lawmakers have signaled support for the Air Force's new vision. The Senate version of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act gave the green light to end the JSTARS recap, while the Senate appropriations committee added $375 million in its bill for drones and other technologies to hasten the ABMS effort.
However, the House version of the NDAA would compel the Air Force to move forward with the recap and award a contract for engineering and manufacturing development.
"The legitimate concern [among some members of Congress] is that the [JSTARS] mission is going to get abandoned or shortchanged," said Todd Harrison, director of the aerospace security project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Holmes said there is widespread support on Capitol Hill for the ABMS concept.
"All the committees understand the need for moving to an advanced battle management system," he said. "If there's disagreement between the committees it's about whether we...