JSTARS participates in counter UAV exercise

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MELBOURNE, Fla. — Recently, the 605th Test and Evaluation Squadron Detachment 2, Melbourne, Fla., utilized the T3 JSTARS test jet to perform a tactics development & evaluation (TD&E) during an exercise at Naval Base Ventura County, in Oxnard, Calif. Tactics development and testing during the exercise was supported by the JSTARS Test Force (JTF); a combined group of active-duty Air Force aviators and engineers, and software developers from Northrop-Grumman Aerospace Systems.

The JSTARS testers and T-3, the JSTARS test aircraft, are stationed in the Northrop-Grumman Complex near the Melbourne, Fla., International Airport and are part of USAF Warfare Center’s 505th Command and Control Wing located at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

The Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) is an airborne command and control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C2ISR) system providing wide-area surveillance to detect, locate, and track ground and maritime targets, slow-moving rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, and rotating antennas. A combat JSTARS crew consists of four flight crew and 20 mission crew who perform C2ISR and in-flight maintenance and support.

The purpose of the tactics development and the optimized performance test was to evaluate new JSTARS radar modernization capabilities by conducting surveillance of low, slow, small (LSS) airborne targets over the water. The capability to detect and track unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and ultralight aircraft is of growing importance due to the proliferation of that technology and JSTARS’ mission sets must evolve as the global political environment changes.

During the four exercise sorties, flying off the coast of Southern California, the crew evaluated the impact of LSS airborne surveillance on current JSTARS tactics, techniques, and procedures. Once JSTARS T-3 called “on-station”, UAVs launched from the naval air station in intervals and flew patterns over water. The crew tested the new capabilities of the radar by attempting to detect and track the UAVs.
They did not have advanced knowledge of the take-off times or patterns of flight of the target aircraft.

Tracking LSS targets using the new upgrades to the radar affects not only the rest of the operating system, but also how the aircraft with the new capabilities can be best employed. Essentially, adding the LSS airborne target set has a significant impact to the doctrinal role of JSTARS; expanding the system’s capability, as it was originally developed to only track terrestrial and then evolved to also track maritime/littoral (watercraft) targets.

Working with the Navy gave the JTF and Northrop-Grumman the chance to test and validate the new radar system upgrades in a challenging maritime environment, develop tactics for maritime operations, and strengthen the synergy between the Navy and JSTARS.

The new LSS radar mode is a subset of a congressionally funded demonstration called JSTARS Radar Modernization Program (JSRM) that replaces the existing JSTARS AN/APY-7 radar receiver with an improved receiver. This increases signal processing capacity and significantly improves radar resolution of moving target indications; giving the user a clearer picture of what’s moving on the ground and now up to several thousand feet above the ground.
In addition to the LSS mode, other new radar enhancements tested during the exercise provide improved probability of detection, increased area coverage, improved tracking, automatic generation of Link 16 air tracks, and an altitude estimation tool for LSS airborne targets. Some of these new capabilities have been congressionally funded and will be merged into the operational JSTARS fleet at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., and some capabilities will continue to be improved upon, using lessons learned from the exercise for future JSTARS radar upgrades.