Navy puts next-gen Hawkeye through its paces at Patuxent

 - November 16, 2009, 12:34 AM

Northrop Grumman’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is currently undergoing carrier compatibility tests at the U.S. Navy’s Patuxent River dummy-deck facility in Maryland before its first venture to sea. Initial carrier trials are to begin in the first half of next year, the exact schedule depending on carrier availability. Here at the Dubai Airshow an operational U.S. Navy E-2C Hawkeye 2000 from the U.S.S. Nimitz is on display in the static area.

The OEM is scheduled to build 75 E-2Ds to completely replace the Navy’s existing E-2C Hawkeye fleet. The last of 205 new-build E-2Cs was handed over at Northrop Grumman’s St. Augustine plant in September. Northrop has completed two developmental test E-2D models, which to date have racked up 1,250 flight hours between them. It is building three pilot production aircraft.

Flight tests have produced positive results so far, with the aircraft and system exceeding key performance parameters and being well below the threshold for software glitches. One of the developmental test aircraft is focusing on air vehicle tests. As the Delta-version is heavier and more powerful than the Charlie, requalification is required. The second test aircraft is primarily concerned with mission system testing. Its ability to track maneuvering targets has been particularly impressive.

Milestone C approval was passed in June, which led to the authorization for the construction of two low-rate, initial-production (LRIP) aircraft and the purchase of long-lead items. Three of the pilot-production/LRIP aircraft are to undergo the Navy’s operation/evaluation (opeval) process, scheduled for the first quarter of fiscal year 2012. The remaining airplane is to be delivered in September 2010 to VAW-120, the Navy’s Hawkeye training squadron at Naval Air Station Norfolk, Virginia, to begin the service’s familiarization with the new variant.

In addition to the aircraft, Northrop Grumman is providing new mission, flight and maintenance training facilities. It has also just broken ground for the facility at Norfolk, and further systems are to be installed at Point Mugu, the California base that serves the Pacific Fleet squadrons. Initial operating capability is planned for 2014, by which time Northrop Grumman hopes to have ramped up to an annual eight-aircraft production rate, albeit with some additional capacity for potential export aircraft.

Even while the E-2D is being prepared for service, a development roadmap is being planned to coincide with programmed maintenance cycles. The first manifestation of this plan is to be the installation of in-flight refueling probes. Northrop Grumman is under contract to test an IFR probe on an E-2C in 2013, having already confirmed that refueling from behind a Super Hornet tanker poses no problems. The upper fuselage structure of the E-2D is the same as that of the E-2C, so once tests are complete the kit can be migrated to the Delta with no obvious issues.

Beyond the IFR probe, the Navy is looking to new mission computers and software common to the E-2C and D, and then further exploitation of the capabilities offered by increasingly wideband IP networks.

Advanced Hawkeye for Export
While initial development efforts are driven by U.S. Navy needs, the Advanced Hawkeye is being actively marketed around the world. The UAE is currently evaluating the type for its AEW requirement, and was the first nation to be granted export authorization. In the UAE, the Advanced Hawkeye is up against two contenders (the Saab 2000 and Boeing 737) that employ fixed electronically scanned antennas, whereas Hawkeye combines “e-scan” with a rotating array.

Jim Culmo, Northrop Grumman’s v-p for AEW and battle management C2 programs, cited the principal advantages of the Advanced Hawkeye’s configuration: “We provide complete 360-degree coverage, with no degradation across the whole sweep. Also, we operate in the UHF band, which has very little interference from the weather or atmosphere, and gives better detection of smaller targets.”

Culmo went on to assert that “the combination of electronic and mechanical scanning blends the strengths of both. Furthermore, the Hawkeye has no compromise in design. The radar is the baseline around which the aircraft is designed, rather than trying to integrate a radar system into a commercial aircraft.”

India is another potential customer and has also received export authorization, while Northrop Grumman is also pitching the E-2D to existing Hawkeye operators. Many of them operate the E-2 from land bases, and the company has done preliminary design work to add fuel capability to a nonfolding, outer-wing panel so mission endurance can be extended to eight hours.

While the Delta represents the new generation, there remains significant life in the E-2C, as evidenced by recent upgrades to the Egyptian and Taiwanese aircraft. When deliveries of the E-2D get under way this may release E-2Cs into the resale and upgrade market.