The U.S. Air Force paid Northrop Grumman Corp. $1.1 billion over about four years to maintain its aging fleet of air-to-ground surveillance aircraft even as costs for the planes increased and their combat capability declined, according to a Pentagon Inspector General audit.
Between May 2011 and October 2015, the Air Force spent money “for a degraded mission capability,” Jacqueline Wicecarver, assistant for acquisition, said in a redacted Nov. 1 report to Air Force officials marked “For Official Use Only.” In addition, some of the Air Force unit’s jets, known as JSTARS, had their missions affected “because aircraft were not available” when needed, according to the report.
Air Force JSTARS aircraft have been used since the 1991 Gulf War to monitor enemy ground movements and pass on locations for airstrikes and overall intelligence. The aircraft are flying over Iraq monitoring Islamic State terrorists. They use modified Boeing Co. 707-300 airframes crammed with radar, sensors and moving target indicators which were already 32 years old at time of purchase.
Even without the management flaws, the Air Force “is faced with significant challenges” to keep the aircraft available for missions, it said. The service will soon launch an $8 billion winner-take-all competition to replace them with 16 new jets, likely pitting Northrop against Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp. (end of excerpt)
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