23 January 2014
JSTARS plans have been in flux for a few years now, as the specter of cancellation of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) has loomed over the Air Force and major upgrade funding for other important programs has been withheld. In 2013 the Air Force has been more proactive about saying they will not fund a major JSTARS upgrade before retirement, but the list of upgrades in the FY14 budget is still a long list. And sustainment alone is very expensive, so why not continue at least with electronics upgrades?
Our JSTARS SAR forecast remains similar to past Air Force plans. The FY14 budget shrank out-years funding without explanation, while retaining the same long laundry list of upgrades. We suspect much funding will be added back next year. Given the difficulty of starting major all-new programs in the current budget environment, JSTARS is likely here to stay for a while.
If JSTARS is abruptly cancelled, expect considerably more funding than we have forecast, to shift over to the replacement program (but more in RDT&E and less in procurement). Only if the Air Force decides to rely solely on MP-RTIP Global Hawks might funding actually drop substantially in value from our forecasts, and that is very unlikely to happen. Especially with the US Navy standing by to "help" with its shiny new SAR/GMTI P-8A Poseidon, it would simply be too embarrassing for the USAF to drop its entire large airborne command and control/SAR capability. Global Hawk may replace the U-2 ASARS-2 SAR capability some day, but such a small platform/system will never replace JSTARS.