Airframe: E-8C Joint STARS

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Charles Dickens
  • Airman Magazine


Surveillance and battle management are key tactics to any successful operation. The ability to track vehicles, aircraft and ground forces, as well as supplying aerial imagery to theater commanders, has the capability to shift the entire landscape of a conflict.

The E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, or E-8C Joint STARS, provides theater ground and air commanders with intelligence through its ability to gather theater surveillance. This information is used to support attack operations and targeting that contributes to the delay, disruption and destruction of enemy forces. With these capabilities, the E-8C Joint STARS is an airborne battle management, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform.


The E-8C Joint STARS began from programs existing within the United States Army and Air Force. The purpose of these programs were to develop and use technology capable of detecting, locating and attacking behind enemy lines. The programs were aligned and consolidated in 1982 with the Air Force taking the helm moving forward.


The E-8C Joint STARS has radar and computer systems that allow for detailed ground information to be sent back to ground stations for a near-real time overview of the landscape. This can relay information from the field regarding any and all ground forces and operations. The aircraft has an antenna that allows the scope of view to cover more than 19,000 square miles, detect specific targets further than 150 miles and identify slower-moving aircraft with varying efficiency.
The Joint STARS began life as a Boeing 707-300 series commercial aircraft. It was heavily modified to include the necessary radar, communications, operations and control equipment to perform its mission of airborne battle management.

Operational History

Post-consolidation, the first two developmental aircraft supported Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and Operation Joint Endeavor in 1995. Since then, the Joint STARS aircraft have accumulated more than 85,000 combat hours supporting various missions from six different combatant commands.

Did You Know?

  • Although the radar systems on the E-8C Joint STARS can identify things like vehicles on the battlefield, it cannot distinguish the specific vehicle, nor the equipment on board. That data is analyzed and compared to other theater information to fill in the details.
  • The E-8C contains 18 workstations on-board to allow operators advanced battle management capabilities.

Aircraft Stats

PRIMARY FUNCTION: Airborne Battle Management
CONTRACTOR: Northrop Grumman Corp.
POWER PLANT: Four Pratt and Whitney TF33-102C low-bypass turbofan engines
LENGTH: 152 feet, 11 inches (46.6 meters)
HEIGHT: 42 feet, 6 inches (13 meters)
WEIGHT: 171,000 pounds (77,564 kilograms)
WINGSPAN: 145 feet, 9 inches (44.4 meters)
SPEED: 449-587 mph/Mach 0.52-0.65
RANGE: Nine hours
PAYLOAD: Electronic equipment and crew
UNIT COST: $244.4 million
CREW: Four flight crew, up to 18 mission crew
INVENTORY: Total Force, 15
SOURCES:, Air Combat Command