For all our new readers, welcome to the fight! Those existing wingmen out there, you know the deal: Fence in for your weekly SA.

Warning: Someone spiked our coffee and it dialed up the snark this week.
Retire the E-8 JSTARS
The FY22 budget proposal includes a request to retire 4 of the Air Force’s E-8 JSTARS fleet currently in service. It’s not only long overdue, but the Air Force could retire more of them without too much drama outside some triggered Georgia politicians.

The E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar Systems (JSTARS) is a wide-area surveillance platform that uses synthetic aperture radar to map large swaths of ground and find moving vehicles (GMTI in mil-speak). Its 1980s radar is strapped to second-hand 1950s Boeing 707 platforms, which are out of service everywhere except for a few specimens remaining within the Air Force.

There are only 16 E-8s in service, and they average 52 years old and have 61,000 hours.

Fun fact: One of these E-8s previously flew as a urine-soaked cattle hauler before being purchased and converted by the Air Force.

So What
In the past decade, this low-density high-demand fleet has seen a 167% increase in maintenance costs. Furthering its death spiral is the 37% rise in operational costs over the same period. One of these aircraft is so decrepit that it's been stuck in depot for three years (and counting).

It costs the Air Force $62 million a year to keep these in service...per aircraft. That works out to be $170,000 per day per aircraft . For perspective, that’s how much a U.S. Congressman makes in an entire year (before bribes and kickbacks).

Do you know what happens when a star dies? It turns into a black hole. Well, the same goes for JSTARS. In the case of the E-8, it’s a black hole for money and wasted human talent. The platform is too old, there’s too few of them, and the equipment is so dated it’s lost nearly all of its warfighting value.

In fact, the E-8 JSTARS has never lived up to its expectations...even when it was new. There are GAO reports going back 25 years that all say the same thing: there are better ways to get this information and throwing a dozen people on used 707s to fly this radar was a terrible idea.

But, but, but…what about “the combatant commander demands”? To that, we say: “Prove it.” Which combatant command is demanding it, exactly what is the capability needed, and what “risk” are they accepting by not having it? 

For too long the combatant commands have asked for everything without having to justify it to anyone, especially the services who are left holding both the readiness and modernization bags. OBTW, they should not be allowed to use platitudes or vanity metrics like X hours of surveillance, Y amount of “combat hours” flown, etc.

Bonus: If you can find one operator or tactician who’s flown alongside JSTARS in the past decade that has gained situational awareness or reaped any benefit from having them flying in circles for a half-day, raise your hand. #crickets

This isn’t just about the airframe, it’s also about personnel management. These hard-working crews and maintainers could be better utilized. 

What Now
We say it’s time to double-down and do innovation via subtraction. As a contingency to retiring these 4 JSTARS, Congress should direct that half of the Air Force's claimed money saved be put into accelerating space-based wide-area GMTI (or declassifying that it already exists in some way, shape, or form).

Somehow, the US government has developed, deployed, and flown a helicopter on freakin’ Mars…but still hasn’t figured out how to replace the niche capability JSTARS supposedly provides? Hmm.
In That Number
$648 Million

The price increase—this year—of the Navy’s maligned Ford-class carrier program. We bet our Snack-O bill that there will be more cost over-runs in next year’s budget request.
Trivia: You have to defuse a bomb by placing exactly 4 gallons of water on a sensor. The problem is, you only have a 5-gallon jug and a 3-gallon jug on hand to do it! Are you as smart as detective John McClain? #TryHard
On the Radar
Singaporean F-16 and F-35B training will be based in…Arkansas? The F-16s are currently assigned to Luke AFB, but will be relocated to Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and join a forthcoming F-35B unit. This move will not only create ramp space at Luke (an F-35 training hub), but it brings a new mission to Arkansas—which Sen. Tom Cotton surely appreciates (he sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Airland subcommittee). Woo Pig Sooie.

Despite Golden Horde’s success, the Air Force decided not to transition it into a program of record. ICYMI, this is a collaborative seeker algorithm program that turns existing guided weapons into networked autonomous teams. This is par for the course with AFRL though, which is notoriously terrible at getting tech it works on to the warfighter. In this case, AFRL looks like a victim of its own success. It designated Golden Horde a Vanguard program, contracted a vendor to develop the tech, and the product worked as advertised…but AFRL appears caught off-guard and unsure of what to do with it.
They Said It
“Planning is good. Talk is good. Now it’s delivery time.”

— Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall , the Joint Chiefs of Staff CIO (J6), on the SECDEF’s signing of the Pentagon’s JADC2 strategy.

The document is classified, though an unclassified summary will be released this summer…which will instantly be treated as “the strategy” by every think tank in Washington.
Zoom In
This week the Senate passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, aka the Endless Frontier Act. This $250 billion spending bill is aimed to promote R&D in emerging technologies that China's government is also investing in (AI, ML, robotics, quantum everything, etc.).

But…what if it’s the wrong move? Zoom in here to learn more about what some very smart people think.
Saved Rounds
  • SECDEF Austin issues a classified directive to tell DoD to close the say-do gap in the Pentagon’s strategic competition efforts against China
  • The Army declares it will field a tactical network by 2025 to make JADC2 a reality
  • The Pentagon’s second Ghost Fleet Overlord USV completes a 4,421-mile trip across the Pacific—while remaining autonomous 98% of the time (a Gibbs & Cox and L3 ASV Global team)
  • Space Engine Systems’ single-stage-to-orbit horizontal take-off and landing aircraft (aka space fighter jet) is making progress—they are preparing to test a ramjet on an F-104 Starfighter soon
  • The Navy’s much-hyped electromagnetic hypervelocity projectile railgun gets defunded to pay for other programs
  • Leidos-owned Dynetics reveals its system used in last month’s Army indirect fires protection capability shoot-off is based on the canceled Multi-Mission Launcher
  • VC-backed Skylo launches its IoT network to connect machines and sensors in India using British GEO Inmarsat satellites with plans starting at $1 a month
  • DARPA completes 4-year development of an overly complicated counter UAS system that deploys a drone to down other drones by shooting streamers at it. #NotaDARPAhardproblem
  • Boeing’s MQ-25 unmanned tanker conducts its first aerial refueling test with a manned fighter
  • Lockheed Martin secures a $1 billion contract to support five years of to operate and maintain the ground control station for SBIRS
  • The Air Force is developing a cloud-based mission planning tool called JOMS CMD, which is based on JOMS, which is based on (and promises to improve) JMPS—the nightmare 15-year old planning software hated by every person who has ever had to use it
ICYMI: The Merge has social media accounts. Be a good wingman and get into position by smashing the social buttons at the bottom of this email.

Bonus: Here’s some content for you to copy, paste, and share in your network.
Share with Friends, Get Cool Stuff!
Have friends who'd love the Merge too? Give them your unique referral link (below) and start earning awesome rewards when they subscribe.

Your unique referral link:

You currently have referrals
The 5 Second Debrief
Trivia Answer:
(1) Fill the 5-gallon jug. The 3-gallon jug is empty.
(2) Empty 3 gallons from the 5-gallon jug into the 3-gallon jug.
(3) 2 gallons remain in the 5-gallon jug. Empty the 3-gallon jug.
(4) Pour the remaining 2 gallons into the 3-gallon jug.
(5) Fill the 5-gallon jug and pour 1 gallon from it to fill the remainder of the 3-gallon jug.
(6) Four gallons remain in the 5-gallon jug.