Joint STARS: Mission crews collect life-saving data

by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

8/1/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — While maintainers and flight deck crews are essential to the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System’s role in the U.S. military’s ongoing war efforts, it’s the mission crew employing their tools that protect U.S. and coalition ground forces around the world.

“It has to be a total team effort,” said Maj. Scott, a 7th Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron mission crew commander. “We rely on the flight deck and maintainers to get us to where we are going. Other sections within the squadron also work hand-in-hand — intel, aircrew flight equipment, our communications team — from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we’re overhead relaying data to those who need it most.”

The Joint STARS’ antenna can be tilted to either side of the aircraft where it can develop a 120-degree field of view covering more than 19,300 square miles and is capable of detecting targets at more than 820,000 feet. As a battle management, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and command and control asset, the E-8C can support the full spectrum of roles and missions from peacekeeping operations to major war.

Scott said they do this by means of the onboard electronic warfare equipment and their 18 member mission crew including 15 Airmen and three Soldiers. Although he added the mission crew size varies according to mission requirements.

The mission crew includes an air intelligence officer or technician, two communications systems technicians, two airborne radar technicians, a senior director, two air weapons officers, a senior director technician, an air operations technician, an Army deputy mission crew commander and one or two Army airborne target surveillance supervisors.

“It’s our job to communicate the Army ground forces commander’s intent to the Air Force personnel,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Quincy, an Army mission crew commander. “Air Force personnel don’t always understand Army jargon, so we translate what our ground forces need in terms our Air Force brethren understand.”

The E-8C’s moving target indicator radar system not only allows the ground commander to react to movement, but the combination of MTI and synthetic aperture radar analysis is beneficial in determining if the enemy is preparing defenses and obstacles or dispersing.

Quincy said the situational awareness provided by the Joint STARS allows the ground commander to task other ISR assets to collect further information on initial reports and maneuver forces to exploit any enemy weaknesses.

“We can assist with counterinsurgency overwatch of the guys on the ground,” said Lt. Col. Claude, the 7th EACCS commander. “While the other ISR airframes are tailored for air-to-air coordination, we are designed for air-to-ground coordination.”

The colonel added his unit also works with the Navy providing them overwatch, saying that’s really why it’s the E-8C “Joint” STARS as they work with so many branches of the U.S. military. Mission crews routinely check in with joint terminal attack controllers in the area and link to other strike and ISR aircraft, including other command and control aircraft such as Air Force E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control Systems and Navy P-3 Orions.

Joint STARS provide essential data that in turn leads to operations including force protection, movement overwatch, defensive operations, dynamic tasking of ISR assets, troops in contact with the enemy and combat search and rescue. These operations range from major offensives against organized threats to stability and support operations.

“That’s what I signed up to do,” said Capt. Matthew, a 7th EACCS mission crew senior director. “I’m able to contribute by giving our guys on the ground the overwatch they need to keep them safe. These are the guys who are really in harm’s way — in the heat of the battle and not just the heat of the environment. Whatever we can do to help, I’m happy we can be there for them.”

[Editor’s note: This article is part three of a three part series highlighting the E-8C Joint STARS deployed mission.]

Published by Benjamin W. Stratton

I'm a photojournalist traveling the world sharing what I experience along the way.

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