Joint STARS testing takes off from Edwards

  • Published
  • By Rob Bardua
  • Air Force Flight Test Center Public Affairs
The Air Force's Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft, known as Joint STARS, is becoming a familiar sight on the runway here.

The aircraft and its test team from Melbourne, Fla., are participating in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Affordable Moving Surface Target Engagement, or AMSTE program, developed by Northrop Grumman.

The program is demonstrating the ability to precisely engage moving surface targets with modified precision-guided weapons. The Joint STARS, an airborne battle management and command and control system, is proving key to the AMSTE test program.

In ongoing testing, real-time information on a moving target is developed from radar sensors. The resulting tracking data is relayed from a Joint STARS aircraft directly to a modified weapon system in flight, such as Boeing's Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, or Raytheon's Joint Stand-off Weapon, or JSOW.

"What we're doing is finding a way to attack moving targets on the ground with affordable, smart (global positioning satellite-type) weapons," said Col. Bob Hood, the director of the Joint STARS test force in Melbourne, Fla., who is in charge of testing for the Joint STARS E-8C aircraft . The test force's overall mission is to develop surveillance and battle management capabilities for all services.

After taking off from Edwards during recent test flights, the AMSTE team engaged in complex moving target scenarios at the Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, Calif. These flight experiments demonstrated multiple, simultaneous JDAM weapon deliveries and integrated AMSTE technologies with the JSOW.

According to Hood, first the Joint STARS aircraft must establish a communications link with another radar system, in this case Northrop Grumman Electronic System's BAC-1-11 test radar. Together, the two radar systems track a moving vehicle along the ground while "talking" to the weapon, he added.

Finally, the data link guides the weapon in flight onto the vehicle moving on the ground.

"The Joint STARS aircraft provides a comprehensive look at the moving targets on the ground," said Hood. "As we move into the MC-2A airplanes that we're developing for the future, we're going to be fusing more information from more sensors and drastically reducing the time from sensor to shooter."

The MC-2A is a modified Boeing 767 aircraft containing a multimission command and control aircraft system. Hood said his team is looking at incorporating information from Global Hawk and other unmanned aerial vehicles and adding sensors to provide an integrated air and ground picture.

"By doing so, we'll be able to more quickly find, fix, track and target those elusive moving targets that are so important to prosecuting a fast and furious war," Hood said. "We will be able to deny one of the last sanctuaries to our enemies."