The Air Force’s E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft have exited the Middle East after being deployed to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility for 18 years.
Known as JSTARS, the airborne ground surveillance, battle management and command and control aircraft departed Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar Oct. 1, according to an Oct. 31 Air National Guard news release.
“Looking out the window of the flight deck and seeing Al Udeid drifting into the distance for the last time after so many years was a momentous occasion,” said Col. Konata Crumbly, a JSTARS aircraft commander, according to the Air Guard release.
"It is difficult to measure the kind of success our Team JSTARS airmen and soldiers achieved over the last 18 years; it can only be measured in lives not lost,” Crumbly said.
The JSTARS departure from the Middle East comes just after the aircraft surpassed 113,337 combat hours — or nearly 13 years of constant flying — in the CENTCOM area of responsibility in September. The aircraft flew daily, averaging roughly 11 hours per flight, to support theater operations, the news release said.
Altogether, JSTARS racked up 10,938 sorties and 114,427 combat flying hours to support almost every CENTCOM operation — to include Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Freedom’s Sentinel and Inherent Resolve — during the wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
The JSTARS aircraft, based out of Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, first started deploying to the Middle East in November 2001, which prompted the Air Force to stand up the service’s first total force initiative wing, known as “Team JSTARS.”
The wing includes Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th Air Control Wing, the Air Combat Command’s 461st Air Control Wing, and the active-duty Army Intelligence and Security Command’s 138th Military Intelligence Company.
“Team JSTARS’ flawless deployment of the Joint STARS weapon system over nearly two decades is a textbook example of total force integration and joint force execution done properly,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas Grabowski, Georgia Air National Guard commander.
"They have set the gold standard in TFI and will continue to lead the way as they restructure to the new Advanced Battle Management System, supporting the Air Force we need,” Grabowski said.
The JSTARS are expected to continue flying for a few more years, until the mid-2020s, but will ultimately be replaced by the Advanced Battle Management System, in accordance with the 2019 defense budget.