When a new team of U.S. Air Force acquisition leaders won a heated battle with Congress in July and boldly killed a plan to buy a $7 billion fleet of new reconnaissance aircraft, it seemed like a turning point. A vital and proven capability—in this case, the Northrop Grumman E-8C Joint Stars (J-Stars) fleet’s aerial ground surveillance radar and onboard battle management center—would be allowed to drift into retirement within seven years, with only a thinly defined, yet ...

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