The Air Force has decided to cancel recapitalization of its aging J-Stars radar planes, arguing that the aircraft won’t be survivable in future air campaigns against adversaries like Russia. The service plans to develop an alternative architecture based on linking together other sensors and battle management assets. There are numerous problems with this plan. Five separate studies said development of a new radar plane was needed. If radar planes aren’t survivable in future wars, neither are tankers or transports. The Air Force doesn’t actually have an alternative to the existing system for tracking moving ground targets, and developing one will take take a long time. Drones aren’t any more survivable than manned radar planes in intensive combat, and the service would need several drones to match the sensing capability of one J-Stars aircraft. The existing fleet of radar planes is aging out fast, and yet combatant commanders rely on them being available on short notice in places like Korea. Bottom line: the Air Force’s story about what it plans to do instead of recapitalizing J-Stars isn’t very credible. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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