16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron flies final local sortie on E-8C JSTARS

16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron flies final local sortie on E-8C JSTARS

By Dario Leone
Sep 12 2022
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The squadron’s ‘Fini-Flight’ follows the Air Force’s decision to divest the E-8C JSTARS aircraft fleet beginning with four aircraft in fiscal year 2022.

The 16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron with the 461st Air Control Wing flew its final local sortie after 27 years of operational history flying the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft Sep. 8, 2022, at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.

According to a 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs news release, the squadron’s ‘Fini-Flight’ follows the Air Force’s decision to divest the E-8C JSTARS aircraft fleet beginning with four aircraft in fiscal year 2022.

The 16th ACCS was activated Feb. 11, 1943, as the 380th Fighter Squadron and was formally redesignated as the 160th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron Aug. 25, 1944. It was later redesignated as the 16th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron Oct. 10, 1950, and was then inactivated Dec. 15, 1989. It was redesignated the 16th ACCS Jan. 15, 1996, which it has remained until the present.

Over the course of its history, the squadron has answered her nation’s call in the European theater of World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War and numerous deployments delivering command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to worldwide combatant commands in theater operations.

Since its redesignation as the 16th ACCS, the squadron has delivered over 5,030 deployed sorties and 51,138 deployed hours, winning eight Headquarters Air Force Air Battle Management Aircrew of the Year awards and contributing to numerous Outstanding Unit Awards for the 461st and 116th Air Control Wings at Robins AFB.

Lt. Col. Joseph Maruska, 16th ACCS commander, piloted the ‘Fini-Flight’ and used the historic call sign of ‘Phenom 16.’

16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron flies final local sortie on E-8C JSTARS
An E-8C Joint STARS operated by an aircrew from the 116th Airborne Command and Control Squadron (ACCS), 461st Air Control Wing, lands after returning from a mission at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, Sep. 8, 2022. The 16th ACCS flew its final local sortie on that day after 27 years of operational history. 

“It has been an honor leading a squadron with such an outstanding history of excellence throughout so many of our nation’s conflicts dating back to World War II,” said Maruska. “The men and women who have served in the 16th have a lot to be proud of. This was a big day for our squadron and for Team JSTARS.

“We could not have done it without the support of Team JSTARS maintenance, our sister squadrons, base support agencies and our teammates in the 116th Air Control Wing,” he continued.

The upcoming inactivation of the 16th ACCS will be the first of several milestones for the JSTARS divestment, which will ultimately make way for the bed down of four new missions at Robins that align with the future Air Force design to prepare for near-peer threats.

The 16th ACCS will be officially inactivated Feb. 16, 2023.

The E-8C JSTARS, is an airborne battle management, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform. Its primary mission 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 E-8C is a modified Boeing 707-300 series commercial airframe extensively remanufactured and modified with the radar, communications, operations and control subsystems required to perform its operational mission. The most prominent external feature is the 27-foot (8 meters) long, canoe-shaped radome under the forward fuselage that houses the 24-foot (7.3 meters) long, side-looking phased array antenna.

16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron flies final local sortie on E-8C JSTARS
An E-8C Joint STARS operated by an aircrew from the 116th Airborne Command and Control Squadron (ACCS), 461st Air Control Wing, returns from a mission at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, Sept. 8, 2022. The 16th ACCS flew its final local sortie on that day after 27 years of operational history. 

The radar and computer subsystems on the E-8C can gather and display detailed battlefield information on ground forces. The information is relayed in near-real time to the Army and Marine Corps common ground stations and to other ground command, control, communications, computers and intelligence, or C4I, nodes.

The antenna can be tilted to either side of the aircraft where it can develop a 120-degree field of view covering nearly 19,305 square miles (50,000 square kilometers) and is capable of detecting targets at more than 250 kilometers (more than 820,000 feet). The radar also has some limited capability to detect helicopters, rotating antennas and low, slow-moving fixed wing aircraft.

As a battle management and command and control asset, the E-8C can support the full spectrum of roles and missions from peacekeeping operations to major theater war.

Photo credit: Senior Master Sgt. Roger Parsons / U.S. Air Force

16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron flies final local sortie on E-8C JSTARS
US Airmen from the 116th Airborne Command and Control Squadron (ACCS), 461st Air Control Wing, join for a group photo after returning from a mission at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, on Sep. 8, 2022. The 16th ACCS flew its final local sortie today after 27 years of operational history. The 16th ACCS will be officially inactivated in February 2023.

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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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