Air Force Wants Bizjets For Surveillance Planes

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The Air Force says it wants surveillance aircraft to be built on business jet platforms as a way to cut acquisition and long-term operations costs. According to Defense News, the first candidate for a bizjet conversion is the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS), which is based on a Boeing 707-300. The Air Force has 18 of the specialized aircraft, which can reportedly pick out moving targets on the ground from 124 miles away. With the range and capability of today's big business jets, the Air Force figures it can save a lot of money with the switch. Boeing may have seen the change coming and is already dabbling in the new market, even though it doesn't build traditional business jets.

At last fall's Dubai Air Show, Boeing signed a deal with Toronto-based Field Aviation Services to modify Bombardier Challenger 605 bizjets into maritime surveillance aircraft. The Challengers will get most of the gear carried by Boeing's P-8 Poseidon but it will cost about a third of the $275 million price of the converted 737-800. Boeing estimates there's a market for about 150 of the Challenger-based surveillance aircraft among military and para-military organizations in countries that can't afford the P-8. Field has already converted some Challengers for several countries as surveillance and search and rescue aircraft.