A product of the Northrop Grumman Corporation, the E-8 "Joint Stars" series of aircraft provides the United States Air Force with electronic "eyes" over the battlefield in the way of aerial surveillance. The aircraft is based on a highly-modified version of Boeing's 707 civil transport plane and retains the basic fuselage shape and four engine low-monoplane wings. Deployed in a limited capacity in 1991, the system saw full operational service by 1996 and continues playing a vital role with American forces through the 116th ACW, which retains 17 such aircraft.
The E-8 Joint Stars system was developed to a US Army and US Air Force requirement for an aircraft platform that was capable of tracking enemy ground targets along frontlines. The contract was awarded to Grumman and two Boeing 707-300 types were chosen for extensive modification. The platform would be powered by four Pratt & Whitney TF33-102C turbofan engines and feature a host of specialized tracking, communications and radar equipment that could assist ground commanders in providing them with near-real time information with a limited ability to track aerial threats.
The most notable design feature of the E-8 is the long fuselage attachment on the forward bottom of the aircraft. This assembly houses a positional side-looking phased array antenna of the Northrop Grumman (Norden) APY-3 type, providing crews and commanders alike with varying fields of view and target detection well over 250 kilometers. The system can track up to 1,000,000 kilometers in one 8-hour sortie (mission endurance time for the aircraft is 9 hours). Pulse Doppler modes are also available, assisting the crew in tracking moving targets. Information gathers by E-8 entities are then relayed to ground control links and, from there, the information is assessed by proper officials. Crew accommodations amount to a full compliment of 4 flight crew personnel, and additional 14 Air Force specialists and three US Army specialists. Of course this can vary based on mission type.
The E-8 was deployed in a basic developmental form during the 1991 Persian Gulf War to which the two aircraft flew a total of 49 sorties. It would later be fielded in support of NATO during the war in Bosnia/Kosovo and more recently in operations Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Iraqi Freedom (Iraq).