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FCW in Mid-East: JSTARS keeps eye on enemy

Federal Computer Week's Dan Caterinicchia is in the Middle East, reporting on the role that IT plays in the Iraq war. Like ADT, FCW is a 101communications LLC publication.


FCW - CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait - After proving its mettle in the skies over southwest Asia during Operation Desert Storm, the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) once again is helping commanders keep an eye on the enemy.

JSTARS is providing coalition ground commanders with a real-time picture of moving targets on the battlefield and shortening the time it takes to engage and destroy enemy forces.

"Every Operation Iraqi Freedom ground commander has had a better understanding of the battlefield because of JSTARS contributions," said Air Force Lt. Col. Mick Quintrall, commander of 363rd Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron.

A joint Army/Air Force program, JSTARS is an aircraft-based system that uses sophisticated radar sensors to track slow-moving vehicles. While flying in friendly airspace, JSTARS crew members can detect and track ground movements deep in hostile territory, collecting valuable data for planning attacks and assessing their success.

The system, carried on Air Force E-8C aircraft, uses a high-powered computer server to process and analyze data, then relays the information to Army ground stations and other command and control systems.

"During this war, increased sentry capability has been due to increased numbers of E-8C aircraft, increased numbers of aircrews, as well as improved reliability and upgraded onboard computers," Quintrall said in an April 2 e-mail sent from a desert air base. "The JSTARS radar product to the battlefield commander and [Central Command] command and control centers has demonstrated improved moving ground target tracking and quicker sensor-to-commander nodes on the ground."

The aircraft have a range of more than 150 miles, according to the Federation of American Scientists. Air Force officials confirmed that JSTARS provides "wide-area surveillance," but said the exact range is classified.

One of the newest JSTARS' features is a data linking capability with the Army's Apache Longbow helicopter, which although not perfect is paying dividends on the battlefield, Quintrall said.

"This limited ability provides cooperative attack capability and information exchange between JSTARS and the helicopter, which allows the Apache to better make targeting decisions," he said.

The JSTARS desert-deployed squadron includes active-duty Army and Air Force personnel and members of the Georgia Air National Guard and civilian contractors, he said. To date, those crews have flown more than 50 missions as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and more than 130 for Operation Southern Watch, according to service officials. Quintrall flies on the aircraft as mission crew commander.

There are 15 aircraft in the JSTARS fleet, but Quintrall would not say how many of those are being used to support the war effort. Due to operational security, he also would not comment on any upcoming operations.

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