J-STARS (Joint Surveillance and Target Acquisition Radar System) is the name for a type of surveillance aircraft developed jointly by the U.S. Army and Air Force. Adapted from the Boeing 707–320, the aircraft itself—on which both Boeing and Grumman worked as contractors—is designated the E–8. Its capabilities include sophisticated radar systems that allow it to conduct extensive ground surveillance.
For the better part of two decades, the air force had sought to develop an aircraft with improved radar capabilities, and in 1985 it began these efforts in earnest by joining forces with the army to create such a plane. The result was J-STARS, whose most notable feature is the pod or radome under the forward fuselage measuring some 24 feet (7.3 m) and shaped like a canoe; it contains a radar system capable of detecting targets the size of a truck over an area of 200 square miles (518 sq km).
Whereas aircraft have long had radar systems to track other planes and stationary objects, the uniqueness of JSTARS lay not only in the fact that its radar monitored activity on the ground, but that it did so with unparalleled precision. J-STARS made it possible to monitor literally hundreds of stations at the same time, using high-resolution imaging.
Two E-8A prototype J-STARS made their initial flight on April 1, 1988, and these two later saw service in Operation Desert Storm during January 1991. Flown on 49 combat sorties for a total of 500 combat hours, the aircraft displayed almost flawless effectiveness in tracking mobile Iraqi ground forces, tanks, and Scud missiles.
J-STARS again saw service during Operation Joint Endeavor, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) action in Bosnia to monitor compliance with the Dayton Peace Treaty agreements in December 1995. The E-8A test craft, as well as the pre-production E-8C model, logged more than 1,000 flight hours on 98 sorties, with a 98 percent effectiveness rate. J-STARS have also been used in NATO's Operation Allied Force in March to June 1999 over Kosovo, and in the U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in October 2001.
█ FURTHER READING:
Polmar, Norman, and Thomas B. Allen. Spy Book: The Encyclopedia of Espionage. New York: Random House, 1998.
Babbin, Jed. "Some Things Can't Wait: Speedy Approval of New Military Technologies Will Save Lives." Washington Times. (June 27, 2002): A23.
Grumman/Boeing E-8 J-STARS. <http://www.zap16.com/mil%20fact/e-8%20j-stars.htm> (January 22, 2003).
Persian Gulf War