WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon has interrupted field tests of a new high-technology radar plane and dispatched it to the Persian Gulf, where it could play a key role in tracking the movement of Iraqi ground forces during a Mideast war, U.S. officials said yesterday.
The JSTARS planes -- short for Joint Surveillance and Targeting Acquisition Radar System -- were designed for use in monitoring troops and tanks in Europe. But six years before they were to formally enter the U.S. arsenal, two of the modified Boeing 707s -- bristling with electronic surveillance equipment -- have arrived in Saudi Arabia for potential war duty.
The planes, projected to cost $370 million by the time all are built, could play another critical role at the outset of a gulf war: to help detect and target 70 Iraqi mobile missile launchers that could be used to hurl Scud missiles, tipped with warheads containing chemical or biological agents, at Israel or Saudi Arabia.
Still in development, the JSTARS planes are designed to scan an enemy's territory at distances of up to 130 miles and spot vehicles moving along the ground. For ground commanders, the planes would provide the same kind of detailed targeting information the AWACS airborne command centers provide commanders of an air war.