KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Providing combatant commanders with intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for the theater of operations all over the world can seem to be a grueling responsibility, but the Air Force’s E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System team from the 116th and 461st Air Control Wing, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, take pride in their unique mission and welcome the challenge.
The primary mission of the JSTARS team is to provide theater ground and air commanders with ground surveillance to support attack operations and targeting that contributes to the delay, disruption and destruction of enemy forces.
The joint aspect of JSTARS refers to the unique capabilities of bringing components of the Air Force and Army together on the E-8C, while also allowing both services to communicate to ground forces and sister services, explained 5th Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron, Army Capt. Michael Loader, deputy mission crew commander.
Tech Sgt. Christopher Hudson, 5 EACCS communication navigation specialist, explained his role in working with sister services, “I work with the communications systems for the back end,” he said. “We’re in charge of pushing all the data we receive when we’re out on a mission … making sure we coordinate with other branches of service whether it be Army or Navy.”
Operating out of the strategic forward 18th Wing, Kadena Air Base, Japan, the 5 EACCS, JSTARS team is made up of all deployed personnel, comprised of active duty members from the 461st ACW, Guard counterparts from the 116th ACW and members from the Army’s 138th Military Intelligence Company.
Having a joint mission provides a unique view of operations between the services and the element of total force integration provides an important continuity for the JSTARS.
“We are truly a total force integration and joint platform whenever we come out here,” said Lt. Col. Jeremy Sherman, director of operations, 5 EACCS. “The Guard definitely provides stability with regards to the platform and what it is they do – they’re weapons systems experts because they spend their entire careers in this particular platform so they’re able to bring a lot of that knowledge to the active duty unit.”
The maintenance team also finds value in active duty and guard members working so closely together.
“I like being able to work hand-in-hand with the Guard,” Staff Sgt. Jacob Spencer, 5EACCS, aerospace propulsion journeyman said. “It’s nice to be able to have that experience from somebody else that has been on the same airframe and hasn’t moved from base to base; they’re a lot more knowledgeable.”
For Hudson – a Guard member – it’s about more than the technical skills.
“It’s no different when we work with active duty back home,” he said, “It’s about keeping up with being a good Airman, watching over your buddies and learning the whole Air Force experience.”
With such high-paced demands, the JSTARS and maintainers rely on the squadron as a whole to ensure mission success. From medical to communications, every member of the 5 EACCS enables the JSTARS to successfully support the combatant command.
“We have 26 different AFSCs that are across the personnel that are deployed out here for the 5 EACCS and we all have different roles and responsibilities but they all have to come together to make the mission happen and that’s super important,” Sherman explained.
The squadron provides an important intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance element vital to peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Each combatant command has their own priorities … what it is they need to collect on in order to gain intelligence on the battlespace. JSTARS is one layer of that ISR that is provided to those combatant commanders so they can make educated decisions on what’s going on in the theater,” Sherman concluded.