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An E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System from the 93rd Air Control Wing flies a refueling mission over the skies of Georgia. Air Force file photo by TSgt. John Lasky.

​The Defense Department has given the Air Force the OK to move forward on recapitalizing the E-8C JSTARS fleet. Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s undersecretary for acquisition, signed a memorandum approving “Milestone A” review of the program, which lets the contractor teams conduct system functional reviews, preliminary design reviews, and subsystem prototype demonstrations, Air Force spokesman Maj. Robert Leese said in a statement. The service also will begin steps to award “up to two radar risk reduction contracts and is on track to release a draft Request for Proposal [RFP] for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase in early 2016,” said Leese. The Air Force plans to award the contract for the next-generation aircraft in 2017. So far, three teams have announced efforts to win the contract: a team of Gulfstream and Northrop Grumman, a joint effort by Bombardier and Lockheed Martin, and Boeing. “JSTARS remains one of the highest priority warfighting capabilities for the combatant commanders and the JSTARS Recapitalization program will ensure the Air Force continues to support their critical need at an affordable cost,” said USAF Secretary Deborah Lee James in a statement. “We are committed to a JSTARS replacement as soon as realistically possible." (See also: The JSTARS Recap from the February issue of Air Force Magazine and JSTARS Recap Debate Rages On.)