Even though the U.S. Air Force may not be upgrading some of its surveillance aircraft, it is not handing off the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission to the U.S. Navy.
Gen. Norton Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, was recently asked whether the fact that the Air Force’s E-8 JSTARS radar plane is not getting upgraded avionics, combined with its proposed termination of the Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned aircraft, indicate the Navy’s new P-8 Poseidon aircraft would take the lead on surveillance missions.
“I think that [Chief of Naval Operations Adm.] Jon Greenert would tell you that he can’t do both the maritime P-8 mission and the entire GMTI [Ground Moving Target Indicator] overland mission,” Schwartz said at a May 1 forum on global security.
Budget constraints have forced the Air Force to focus on the new tanker, long-range bomber and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, so it lacks the resources for anything else, Schwartz said.
Furthermore, Schwartz said he doesn’t believe the Navy’s P-8 should replace the E-8.
“Based on the analysis of alternatives, the more attractive option is a business-class aircraft with cheek sensors that operates at 40,000-foot plus and at much less of a flying-hour cost,” Schwartz said. “That’s probably the right solution set, but we don’t have the space to pursue it right now.”
An Air Force spokeswoman, Maj. Mary Danner-Jones, said definitively that the Navy is not taking over the surveillance mission from the Air Force.
“The Air Force is all-in when it comes to conducting the ISR mission in support of our joint partners around the globe today and tomorrow,” she said in an email. “Across the AF ISR enterprise, we fly approximately 1,500 hours of airborne ISR missions every day.”
Providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance will continue to be one of the Air Force’s enduring missions, she said.
A Navy official said the service’s focus of surveillance is the maritime and littoral environments.
“The P-8 is first and foremost an anti-submarine warfare platform,” the official said. “As a secondary mission, it is capable of conducting anti-surface warfare and ISR missions in various environments as part of a family of systems.”
The Navy has no plans to take over the Air Force’s surveillance mission, the official said.
“The Navy is fielding a variety of manned and unmanned systems that are designed to satisfy maritime requirements for the joint force,” the official said. “While systems like P-8A and the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance unmanned aerial system will cover broad areas, they are primarily focused on supporting maritime missions.”