Joint STARS The Warfighter's Window to the Battlefield

by Lieutenant Colonel Kevin C. Peterson and Major Phillip G. Basinger

Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) System Manager (TSM) is the Army Proponent for the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS) Ground Station Module (GSM), which will evolve into the Common Ground Station (CGS), and the Commander's Tactical Terminal (CTT) which will become the Joint Tactical Terminal. This article provides an overview of the systems and their current status.


Joint STARS is an Army-Air Force system designed to provide near-real-time surveillance intelligence, targeting, and battle management to the land component commander. The system is made to support a corps-size unit. Joint STARS consists of the Air Force-owned E-8 aircraft, a modified Boeing 707 manned by an Air Force and Army aircrew, and what we like to call the "business end of the system," the Ground Station Module (GSM), operated by the Army. The E-8, using its chin-mounted multimode radar, collects moving target indicators (MTIs), fixed target indicators (FTIs) , and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery and downlinks this to the GSM. GSMs not in the footprint of the aircraft datalink can have another GSM relay the data through a satellite at a reduced data rate using the built-in satellite communications radio.
Once fielded to military intelligence (MI), aviation, and artillery units, the GSM will be the most numerous MI end-item in the Army, located from maneuver brigade up through echelons above corps (EAC). Current fielding plans call for each division to have six GSMs; corps will have seven GSMs (this includes the Armored Cavalry Regiments), and each EAC MI Brigade will have two. The total planned buy is 20 Air Force aircraft, 95 GSMs for the Army, and 2 GSMs for the Marine Corps.
Currently, three different versions of the GSM (see Figures 1 and 2 for their capabilities and differences) have been fielded.
Figure 1.
Figure 2
The Joint STARS Common Ground Station (CGS) is a Preplanned Product Improvement of the Block One Light GSM. The system will have expanded interfaces with other systems such as aviation, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and signals intelligence feeds through the Commander's Tactical Terminal (CTT). In addition to the expanded interfaces, the system will be able to receive secondary imagery from tactical, theater, and national systems. Although originally scheduled to begin fielding at the turn of the century, CGS has been selected as a candidate system for acquisition streamlining. The first CGS may roll off the production line as soon as the second quarter of fiscal year 1998 (2 QTR FY 98).


A composite Joint STARS team recently returned home in April after nearly a 4-month deployment to Europe in support of Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR. The team consisted of members and equipment from the 303d MI Battalion, Fort Hood, Texas; the 319th MI Battalion, Fort Bragg, North Carolina; the Developmental Test and Training Detachment, 111th MI Brigade, Melbourne, Florida; and the Program Manager (PM) and TSM offices for Joint STARS . General Joulwan (Supreme Allied Commander, Europe) called the Joint STARS system forward to support the International Force (IFOR)'s deployment into Bosnia. Army members met with their Air Force counterparts to form the 4500th Joint STARS Squadron (Provisional) at Rhein Main Air Base, Germany. With two of the required five aircraft needed to provide 24-hour coverage, the E-8s flew 89 sorties, including 50 consecutively, breaking the DESERT STORM record of 49 in a row.
Of a total of 12 GSMs deployed, 7 were positioned in Italy, Hungary, and Germany, and 5 were within Bosnia itself: 3 were with the 1st Armored Division, and 1 each with the British and French Divisions. The system's employment was primarily in the force protection and peace-treaty-compliance modes, but it supported other missions such as observing mass grave sites for evidence of corpse removal or tampering. The system' deployment to Europe forced a cancellation of the extensive Multi-Service Operational Test and Evaluation (MOT&E) planned during the same timeframe.
However, Joint STARS met many of the test objectives while supporting JOINT ENDEAVOR, and test personnel and data collectors accompanied the operational personnel on the deployment to verify performance.

93d Air Control Wing Activated

While the 4500th Joint STARS Squadron (Provisional) was providing near-real-time intelligence to the IFOR, the 93d Air Control Wing activated at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, on 29 January 1996. The Wing is an integrated organization consisting of personnel from the Air Force and the Army. The unit will "ramp up" over eight years increasing in size from 300 personnel in 1996 to an end strength of 2,700 by the year 2004.
During operations, the Joint STARS Army aircrew (three per flight crew) will provide the critical conduit and interface with all deployed GSMs. The aircrew members and staff are assigned to the 297th Operation Battalion of the 513th MI Brigade. An Army officer will fill the Wing's Deputy Operation Group Command position. That officer will present Army issues and ensure that mission support to GSM is considered during training, exercises, and deployments.
The Wing's initial operational capability date is 2QTR FY 97 after which the system will deploy to support exercises throughout the world. Part of the Joint STARS team will soon be two officers from the Aviation and Artillery Branches. The Army crew with this augmentation will better meet the targeting and situational awareness needs of multiple commanders simultaneously, and do it in a focused manner. Aviation and artillery officers assigned to the Wing will ensure Joint STARS remains forward on support to ground units, while demonstrating the Army's commitment to this vital program.

Commander's Tactical Terminal

Configured as a stand-alone system or as a line replaceable unit, the CTT has been integrated into many new aviation, air defense artillery, fire support, and intelligence systems, including the Joint STARS Medium and Light GSMs (MGSM, LGSM). Depending on the version, the CTT accesses (transmit and receive) four broadcast intelligence networks operating at the national or theater level.
Tactical Reconnaissance Intelligence Exchange System (TRIXS) Network. The TRIXS is a line-of-sight (LOS), interactive (transmit-receive), ultrahigh frequency (UHF) network which supports up to five airborne relays and producers:
TRIXS transmits messages in near-real-time to up to 250 addressees. The TRIXS operates at the SECRET and sensitive compartmented intelligence (SCI) levels.
Tactical Information Broadcast Service (TIBS). The TIBS is a theater UHF LOS or satellite-interactive network. The TIBS can support up to 10 producers, 50 query nodes, and an unlimited number of receive-only users. The TIBS operates at the SECRET collateral level.
Tactical Receive Equipment (TRAP) Data Distribution System (TDDS), and Tactical Data Information Exchange System-Broadcast (TADIXS-B). The TDDS and TADIXS-B are global UHF satellite broadcasts which can serve an unlimited number of receive-only users. They currently operate at the SECRET level.
There are three CTT configurations. The CTT-1 is a stand-alone, single-channel transmitter and receiver (full duplex data and half-duplex voice) system which operates either SCI or SECRET collateral in the TRIXS network only. Currently, U.S. Army, Europe, has fielded 7 CTT-1 systems and U.S. Forces Command has 16 CTT-1s.
A component part of a larger system, the CTT-2 is a two-channel receive-only system which can receive any two of the four broadcast networks simultaneously. More than 180 CTT-2s have been fielded to Air Force and Army units. This is the system currently integrated into the LGSMs and MGSMs.
The CTT-3 is a three-channel full duplex transmitter and receiver. It can receive three broadcast intelligence networks simultaneously and adds the capability to transmit and receive secondary imagery. Delivery of the first seven systems will be in June 1996; three of them will be installed in MGSMs in Korea. Total production of the CTT-3 will be 86 CTT-3 transmitter-receivers, with 37 going to the Army, 26 to the Marine Corps, and 16 to the Navy.
The four separate intelligence broadcast networks will eventually combine into a single Integrated Broadcast Service with a single data format (Tactical Digital Information Link -J), and a common family of terminals for the four Services, the Joint Tactical Terminal (JTT). The JTT will eventually replace all the CTTs.
Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Peterson was commissioned in the Army upon graduation from the University of Iowa in 1975. After completing Field Artillery Basic Course, he served as a Reconnaissance and Survey Officer and Fire Direction Officer with the 1/6th Field Artillery Battalion, XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery. He Has held command and staff assignments in both aviation and Iintelligence units, including Imagery Interpretation Platoon Leader, 218th Military Intelligence Detachment (Airborne); S2 and flight Platoon Leader, 82d Aviation Battalion; Reconnaissance Platoon Leader and Company Executive Officer, 73d Combat Intelligence Company, Adjutant and Commander, Headquarters, Headquarters and Service Company, 2d Military Intelligence Battalion (Aerial Exploitation): Concepts Branch Chief and Concepts and Studies Division Chief, Directorate of Combat Developments, United States Army Intelligence Center; Executive Officer and Operations S3 Officer 1st Military Intelligence Battalion (Aerial Exploitation); Director of Logistics, USAIC&FH, Commander 304 MI Bn and TSM-Joint STARS. He holds a master's degree in Administration from Central Michigan University and is a graduate of the Military Intelligence Advanced Course and the Army Command and General Staff College. Readers can reach the authors at (520) 533-5301/5201 and DSN 821-5301/5201. You can reach Lieutenant Colonel Peterson via E-mail/PROFS at
Major Phil Basinger is currently the Deputy TSM Joint STARS. He has a BA in History from the University of Central Arkansas and a MA in International Relations from University of Southern California. Previous assignments include Brigade Executive Officer, Battalion Executive Officer, and Battalion S3. He recently served as Chief Joint STARS Liaison at the Combined Air Operations Center, Vicenza, Italy, during Joint STARS deployment to Europe for Operation JOINT ENDEAVOR. Major Basinger's E-mail/PROFS address is