Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Source says J-STARS aircraft may have been sabotaged at contractor location

Joint STARS aircraft undergoing work at a contractor facility may have been sabotaged.

A tersely worded statement issued by Robins Air Force Base on Tuesday indicated that workers at Northrup Grumman’s Lake Charles, La., facility have discovered severed wires on an E-8C jet.

“To ensure the integrity of the maintenance process, we are working with Northrop Grumman to get to the root cause,” the statement added. “The matter is currently under investigation and more details will be released as they become available.”

Although the Air Force statement implied only one aircraft was affected, a source close to the incident has told The Patriot that up to four aircraft may have been damaged. The source also said a Northrop Grumman worker was suspected although the identity of the worker and a possible motive were unknown. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations is conducting the review, the source noted.

Northrop Grumman spokesman Gregory Harland issued a statement through Robins saying that the company “is supporting the United States Air Force in an ongoing investigation.” He referred all additional questions to the Air Force.

Harland, sector communications director for Northrup Grumman Aerospace Systems in Melbourne, Fla., declined to elaborate during a Tuesday afternoon telephone call.

The Joint STARS airborne ground surveillance fleet – heavily taxed and deployed in the continuing war on terror – is based exclusively at Robins under an active associate arrangement between the active-duty 461ST Air Control Wing and the Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th Air Control Wing. However, the actual aircraft belong to the Georgia Air National Guard.

Maj. Gen. Tom Moore, commander of the Georgia ANG, confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Air Force OSI was investigating the matter. He did not go into detail on the operational impact, but said 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.”

Northrop Grumman’s Lake Charles Maintenance and Modification Center is responsible for Joint STARS periodic depot maintenance under a Total System Support Responsibility agreement with the Air Force. According to the company Web site, the center also performs Air Force-requested modifications and upgrades and “works on an average of ten Joint STARS per year.”

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