Boeing E-8C


The E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) is a long-range, air-to-ground surveillance system designed to locate, classify and track ground targets in all weather conditions. As an airborne battle management and command and control platform, it conducts ground surveillance to develop an understanding of the enemy’s situation and to support attack operations and targeting that contributes to the delay, disruption and destruction of enemy forces.

While flying in friendly airspace, the joint Army-Air Force program can look deep behind hostile borders to detect and track ground movements in both forward and rear areas. It has a range of more than 150 miles (250km). These capabilities make “Joint STARS” effective for dealing with any contingency, whether actual or impending military aggression, international treaty verification, or border violation.

Boeing E-8C Background

“Joint STARS” evolved from U.S. Air Force and Army programs to develop, detect, locate and attack enemy armor at ranges beyond the forward area of troops. The Air Force was pursuing a system known as Pave Mover that provided moving target indicator (MTI) and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) surveillance, and included a weapons guidance mode that could guide tactical aircraft or missiles to targets. The Pave Mover program was preparing to enter full scale development before the consolidation. The Army had built a system called SOTAS, a helicopter-based, MTI-only system that had run into cost and technical problems during full scale development.

In 1982, the programs were consolidated and the Air Force became the lead agent. In May 1984, the Chiefs of Staff of the Air Force and Army made the final decision to put the “Joint STARS” radar on a Boeing 707 platform. In September 1985, the Full Scale Development contract for the system was awarded to Grumman Aerospace Company, with the radar development portion being subcontracted to Norden Systems. The contract included the production of two developmental “Joint STARS” aircraft with a plan for 10 production aircraft, and support for developmental testing and a European Field Test Demonstration.

In April 1988, Grumman was able to put together an E-8A “Joint STARS” prototype on the first rebuilt Boeing 707 and complete a test flight without the radar sensor. The Norden radar was later integrated onto the airplane, and the first full test flight using the radar occurred in December. Also in April 1988, the Defense Acquisition Board made major program changes. It increased the number of E-8 aircraft to be built to 22 from the 10 originally planned, and approved a program plan to use new Boeing 707 (E-8B) aircraft instead of used (E-8A) platforms. The first two E-8A development airplanes were 20-year-old commercial Boeing 707s, whose conversion difficulties and questions of remaining service life pushed the board toward having subsequent aircraft be E-8B airframes. By late 1989, however, the cost of newly built E-8B airframes jumped because of a production gap between the last 707-based aircraft in 1991 and what would be the first production version “Joint STARS” two to three years later.

In November 1989, the Pentagon approved the re-baseline of the program to use older 707 airframes in the E-8C configuration. The program office had examined other platform options, including Boeing’s 757 and 767 and the McDonnell Douglas MD-11, but these were all cost prohibitive and the change in configuration would have jeopardized the initial operational capability date of 1997.

Boeing E-8C Testing

The E-8A pre-production model was owned exclusively by Northrop Grumman Corp. Although still under development, two aircraft deployed in 1991 to participate in Desert Storm. The joint program accurately tracked mobile Iraqi forces, including tanks and Scud missiles. Crews flew developmental aircraft on 49 combat sorties accumulating more than 500 combat hours and a 100 percent mission effectiveness rate.

“Joint STARS” developmental aircraft were also called to support the NATO peacekeeping mission, Operation Joint Endeavor, in December 1995. While flying in friendly air space, the testbed E-8A and pre-production E-8C aircraft monitored ground movements according to the Dayton Peace Treaty agreements. Crews flew 95 consecutive operational sorties and more than 1,000 flight hours with a 98 percent mission effectiveness rate.

Boeing E-8C Production

The E-8C is the production model owned by the Air Force. It first flew in March 1994 and was delivered in June 1996. A second aircraft followed in December 1996. The two E-8A testbed aircraft will be upgraded to C-model standard and will be the last to be delivered.

“Joint STARS” returned to Operation Joint Endeavor when the 93rd Air Control Wing (ACW) deployed in October 1996. The first production E-8C and a pre-production E-8C from Northrop Grumman Corp. flew 36 operational sorties and more than 470 flight hours with a 100 percent effectiveness rate. The wing declared initial operational capability on 18 December 1997. A fourth production aircraft, designated backup aircraft inventory, was delivered to the Air Force on 18 August 1998.

Boeing E-8C Features

The E-8C is a modified Boeing 707-300 series commercial airframe extensively enhanced with the radar, communications, operations and control subsystems required to perform its operational mission. The most prominent external feature is the 40-foot (12m) long, canoe-shaped radome under the forward fuselage that houses the 24-foot (7.3m) long, side-looking phase array antenna.

The E-8C can respond quickly and effectively to support worldwide military contingency operations. It is a jam-resistant system capable of operating while experiencing heavy electronic countermeasures. The aircraft can fly a mission profile for more than eight hours without refueling, although its range and on-station time can be increased through inflight refueling.

The radar and computer subsystems on the E-8C can gather and display broad and detailed battlefield information. Data is collected as events occur. This includes position and tracking information on enemy and friendly ground forces. The information is relayed in near-real time to the Army’s common ground stations via the secure jam-resistant surveillance and control data link and to other ground command, control, communications, computers and intelligence nodes beyond line-of-sight via ultra high frequency (UHF) satellite communications.

Radar operating modes include wide area surveillance, MTI, sector search MTI, and SAR. The antenna can be slued to either side of the aircraft to provide a 120-degree field of view covering nearly 19,305 square miles (50,000 sq km) and is capable of detecting targets at ranges from 164,049 to 820,248 feet (50-250km) from the aircraft. In addition to being able to detect, locate and track large numbers of ground vehicles the radar has some limited capability to detect helicopters, rotating antennas and low slow-moving fixed-wing aircraft.

Other major E-8C subsystems are communications, operations and control. Eighteen operator workstations display computer-processed data in graphic and tabular format on video screens. Operators and technicians perform battle management, surveillance, weapons, intelligence, communications and maintenance functions.

In support of air-to-ground operations, the E-8C can provide the direct information needed to increase situation awareness with intelligence support and support attack and targeting operations to include attack aviation, naval surface fire, field artillery and friendly maneuver forces. It also provides information for air and land commanders to gain and maintain control of the battle-space and execute against enemy forces.

Wide Area Surveillance and Moving Target Indicator (WAS/MTI) are the radar’s fundamental operating modes. WAS/MTI is designed to detect, locate and identify slow-moving targets. Through advanced signal processing, “Joint STARS” can differentiate between wheeled and tracked vehicles. By focusing on smaller terrain areas, the radar image can be enhanced for increased resolution display. This high resolution is used to define moving targets and provide combat units with accurate information for attack planning.

Synthetic Aperture Radar/Fixed Target Indicator (SAR/FTI) produces a photographic-like image or map of selected geographic regions. SAR data maps contain precise locations of critical non-moving targets such as bridges, harbors, airports, buildings, or stopped vehicles.

The FTI display is available while operating in the SAR mode to identify and locate fixed targets within the SAR area. The SAR and FTI capability used in conjunction with MTI and MTI history display allows post-attack assessments to be made by onboard or ground operators following a weapon attack on hostile targets.

“Joint STARS” operates in virtually any weather, on-line, in real-time, around the clock. The augmented Air Force/Army mission crew can be deployed to a potential trouble spot within hours and provide valuable data on ground force movements.

On a standard mission the aircraft has a crew of 21, with three flight crew and 19 systems operators. On a long endurance mission the aircraft has a crew of 34, with 6 flight crew and 28 system operators.

Boeing E-8C Specifications

Official DesignationBoeing E-8C ‘Joint STARS’
Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System
Primary RoleAirborne battle management
National OriginUSA
Original ContractorThe Boeing Company
Current ContractorGrumman Aerospace Company
OperatorUnited States Air Force
Wingspan145 feet, 9 inches (44.4m)
Length152 feet, 11 inches (46.6m)
Height at Tail42 feet, 6 inches (13m)
EnginesFour Pratt & Whitney TF33-102C turbofans
Thrust19,200 pounds (85kN) per engine
Optimum Orbit Speed450 to 590 mph (720-945km/h; Mach 0.6 to 0.8)
Endurance11 hours; 20 hours with inflight refueling
Service Ceiling42,000 feet (12,802m)
Operating WeightUnknown
Max Takeoff Weight331,000 pounds (150,142kg)
Basic Crew21 to 34
Date DeployedJune 1996
Total in ServiceFour aircraft (14 to be delivered to the USAF by 2003)