An enduring commitment: JSTARS hits milestone with over 100,000 combat flying hours

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
There's only one Team JSTARS and its home is Robins Air Force Base. 

That same team of men and women has once again seized another milestone - this time exceeding 100,000 combat flying hours in direct support of operations in U.S. Central Command's area of responsibility.

That figure equates to an E-8C aircraft flying for at least 20 hours per day, every day, for the past 14 years. 

"It's a testament to an enduring commitment - to the airmen, soldiers and civilians who have kept the aircraft flying and coming out of Robins to achieve that goal," said Col. Henry Cyr, 461st Air Control Wing commander. "JSTARS' range is across a large percentage of the CENTCOM area supporting various ground, air and naval forces. It puts this achievement not only in the context of endurance, but an expanding mission based on our airmen and soldiers finding problems and solving them."

"JSTARS has evolved in the missions we're tasked with," he said. "It has moved throughout the theater and has met varying demands, but it's been a constant throughout."             

CENTCOM's AOR covers much of the Middle East, consisting of 20 countries that include Iran, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Qatar.

JSTARS, or Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, includes the 461st ACW which became an active duty wing in late 2011, the Georgia Air National Guard's 116th ACW and the Army's 138th Military Intelligence Co. 

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, its operational resume has contributed global support to six combatant commanders from U.S. Pacific, Northern, Southern, Africa, European and Central commands. 

However, the aircraft has kept a consistent CENTCOM presence as far back as the early 2000s, supporting since then every major air campaign with its crews of airmen and soldiers. 

"Surpassing 100,000 combat flying hours in direct support of CENTCOM has come about through the dedication of the JSTARS team of airmen and soldiers along with support of our government and industry partners," said Col. Kevin Clotfelter, 116th ACW commander. 

It's a clear indication of the value and capabilities that the E-8C brings to the manned command and control, battle management, intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance mission. 

"This milestone is not ours alone," he continued. "Our families and communities that support us every day play a key and critical role." 

Over the years it's estimated there have been tens of thousands who have deployed from Robins with JSTARS, many of those repeated deployments from the same members.

They have supported thousands of large and small-scale operations - with mission-capable percentage rates consistently measuring in the high 90s. 

At locations such as Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, JSTARS members perform on an airborne battle management, command and control, and ISR platform that support all services throughout the AOR. 

As they survey the area, information is collected through other ISR platforms and sensors, and crews relay critical movement or information to the command in which they're supporting for decision making. 

A senior mission crew commander in support of JSTARS explained operators onboard the aircraft make sure equipment works, that they're engaged in the fight, and communicating with the Combined Air and Space Operations Center to support the mission.

"That's 14 years of continuous deployments, having ready crews, great maintenance, great support for the aircraft, for as old as they are, are still safe and can fly, and do what they were designed to do," said the senior mission crew commander. 

The average age of a JSTARS aircraft is 46 years old. Despite its aging fleet, JSTARS continues to support missions across the globe with combatant commanders on the ground or Navy and Coast Guard forces at sea. 

As part of a recapitalization program, efforts are underway to replace the specialized reconnaissance aircraft with a new, more efficient business jet class airframe and more advanced communication tools. 

Tentative initial operational capability is scheduled for 2022. 

The aircraft's continuous deployments to CENTCOM have supported operations including Southern Watch, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Inherent Resolve and Freedom's Sentinel.  

Editor's note:  Names were withheld for security reasons.  The 116th ACW and 379th Air Expeditionary Wing contributed to this article.