The announcement comes after informed sources told The Patriot last week that up to four aircraft were possibly impacted at Northrop Grumman’s Lake Charles, La., maintenance and modification center. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations is the lead agency for reviewing the incident.
Northrop Grumman has a Total System Support Responsibility agreement with the Air Force to provide periodic depot maintenance along with modifications and upgrades to the E-8C aircraft. The company is referring all press inquiries to the Air Force.
The Joint STARS airborne ground surveillance fleet is based exclusively at Robins Air Force Base along with the system’s program management office. The 16-aircraft contingent is flown under an active associate agreement between the active-duty 461st Air Control Wing and the Georgia Air National Guard's 116th Air Control Wing. The airframes are owned by the Guard.
Comments Wednesday from the Georgia Guard were not immediately available, although Maj. Gen. Tom Moore, Georgia ANG commander, said last week that “any grounding of one of our jets significantly impacts our operations. We only have 16 jets and they are all very much in demand.”
Col. Fred Kennedy, III, senior materiel leader for the Command and Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Division at Robins, said damage on the two aircraft was “in the few tens” of wires.
“But, as you might imagine, even a single, severed wire could potentially pose a flight safety risk,” Kennedy added, “so we take any instance very seriously.”
Officials at Robins declined to answer additional questions regarding the identity and status of possible saboteurs, motives, when the affected aircraft will be returned to service and how the incident might impact continued Joint STARS work at Northrop Grumman.
Linda Card, a spokeswomen at Air Force OSI Headquarters at Quantico, Va.,said the investigation has just begun and agents were conducting interviews at the Lake Charles site.
“We have nothing else to release at this time,” Card said by telephone Wednesday afternoon. “The investigation is still open and on-going.”
Joint STARS has been a vital workhorse in the war on terror. It employs a Boeing 707 platform, a 24-foot belly-mounted radar and sophisticated on-board computers and communications gear to provide real-time, precise targeting information to airborne and ground units. The 18-person mission crew can detect, identify and track moving ground targets over a 150-mile area.