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Georgia Air National Guard officially retires first of 16 JSTARS aircraft

  • Published
  • By Barry Bena
  • 116th Air Control Wing

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, GA -- The Georgia Air National Guards 116th Air Control Wing, in cooperation with the 461st Air Control Wing, officially retired the first E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft here on Thursday.

Aircraft serial number 92-3289, the first E-8C JSTARS to arrive at Robins Air Force Base in 1996, took off Thursday morning en route to its final destination with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, where it will retire with approximately 4,000 other Air Force aircraft awaiting final disposition. The group is commonly known as “the Boneyard.”

The first retirement of a JSTARS aircraft gives us an opportunity to celebrate the operational accomplishments and the pivotal role the aircraft has played since the first one came to Robins in 1996,” said Col. Amy Holbeck, commander of the 116th Air Control Wing.

In 2018, then Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson announced the airframe was not to be recapitalized. In late 2021, Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., the chief of staff of the Air Force, signed an official memorandum to begin the divestment of Joint STARS in fiscal year 2022.

Aircraft 92-3289 didn’t begin as an Air Force E-8C. Surprisingly enough, it began as a passenger airline with Qantas Airways in 1968. Ownership was transferred a few times before eventually being purchased by Grumman Melbourne Systems Division for its conversion into the current E-8C. After conversion, it was officially delivered to Robins AFB in March 1996.

“Northrop Grumman employees converted an airliner to a military weapon system, modifying the aircraft and installing state of the art technology that would deliver unparalleled awareness on battlefields around the globe,” said retired Col. Henry Cyr, manned C2-ISR programs director for Northrop Grumman and former 461st Air Control Wing commander.

The 93rd Air Control Wing, which activated Jan. 29, 1996, accepted 92-3289 that June, and deployed in support of Operation Joint Endeavor in October. Aircraft 92-3289 and a pre-production E-8C flew almost 40 operational sorties and almost 500 flight hours. Operation Allied Force saw Joint STARS in action again from February to June 1999 accumulating more than 1,000 flight hours and a 94.5 percent mission-effectiveness rate in support of the Kosovo War.

In addition to Operations Allied Force and Operation Joint Endeavor, E-8C Joint STARS have been involved in NATO operations, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Inherent Resolve as well as various counter-narcotics missions.  Since 9/11, the E-8C fleet has flown more than 130,000 combat mission hours.

From the beginning, JSTARS was an immediate game changer on the battlefield and the resulting successes have been impressive,” Holbeck said.  “We will continue to provide support to the combatant commanders until the last aircraft has been divested.”

The E-8C JSTARS have been invaluable to the joint force by using cutting-edge technology throughout their 20 years of service,” said Col. Michelle Carns, commander of the 461st Air Control Wing. “Our Airmen will continue to provide that same level of support to the mid- 2020s.”

The Air Force retirement of the Joint STARS aircraft will allow Airmen at Robins to transition to four new missions coming to the base. Those new missions include the Advanced Battle Management System Family of Systems, an intelligence-gathering network under development that allows real-time sharing of battlefield information between satellites in space, military aircraft, ground forces and commanders. The other three missions include an E-11 Battlefield Airborne Communication Node squadron, a Spectrum Warfare Group and a Battle Management Command and Control unit

The Airmen of the 116th and 461st Air Control Wings will be able to embrace the new missions knowing that they are a special part of a legacy that began with this aircraft and will carry on into the transformed future.

"The retirement of aircraft 92-3289 is bittersweet as it represents the beginning of the divestment of the E-8C fleet but it also is an opportunity to reflect on the great good that can come from a military and industry team focused on delivering what is needed in the defense of our nation,” Cyr said.