NATO and user nations are modernizing their Boeing 707-based airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft with their distinctive, top-mounted radar domes, keeping them “relevant and ready” for contemporary missions, Boeing says. The manufacturer is currently performing four major AWACS modernization programs under its ASC2, or airborne surveillance command and control, portfolio.
The U.S. Air Force (USAF) is in the middle of upgrading its 31-aircraft E-3 Sentry fleet to Block 40/45 standard, which replaces the aircraft’s mission computer systems, some of which date to the 1970s. The new configuration includes a network-based architecture and increased processing power.
Boeing (Chalet 321/324) provides shipset hardware, spare parts and delivery and logistics support for the upgrade, which Air Force technicians install at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. E-3s are based at Tinker, at Kadena Air Base, Japan, and at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. The service declared initial operational capability of the upgraded E-3G last July. It plans to upgrade the entire fleet by 2020.
On December 31, Boeing completed the first flight of a NATO E-3A AWACS aircraft with a modernized flight deck under the so-called Dragon upgrade, or Diminishing manufacturing sources Replacement of Avionics for Global Operations and Navigation. Fourteen NATO E-3s will receive the upgrade, which replaces analog instruments with the Rockwell Collins (Chalet 21 Hall 2b D108) Flight2 integrated avionics system, including large format displays, flight management system and new communications and navigation equipment.
The Dragon cockpit meets future communications, navigation and surveillance/air traffic management (CNS/ATM) mandates, allowing the E-3 broader access to world airspace. The U.S. Air Force also plans to install the upgrade, with a first flight planned next year.
The French Air Force is halfway through modernizing its four-aircraft E-3F AWACS fleet. The mid-life update (MLU) to Block 40/45 standard is the largest single upgrade of the fleet it has undertaken, and represents a $380 million foreign military sale through the USAF, said Mark Ellis, Boeing’s ASC2 program director. The MLU increases the number of operator workstations in the aft cabin from 10 to 14 and incorporates a modernized IFF (identification friend or foe) system with new AN/UPX-40 interrogator, improving the aircraft’s surveillance capability.
On May 20, Boeing announced that initial operational capability of the modernized French AWACS fleet was achieved with the delivery of the second of four upgraded aircraft and the completion of operational tests. The manufacturer delivered the first updated aircraft last July and the second this March. Under subcontract to Boeing, Air France Industries KLM Engineering and Maintenance installs the MLU modification kits at its Paris Roissy facility at Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Ellis said the third aircraft should be delivered in October; the manufacturer expects to deliver the fourth in June 2016.
Last August, the U.S. State Department approved a foreign military sale to Saudi Arabia consisting of the Block 40/45 mission computer system upgrade, AN/UPX-40 IFF interrogator subsystem, parts, training and logistical support for five Royal Saudi Air Force E-3s. Ellis said Boeing is on contract to provide the initial development of the Saudi radar system upgrade.
Within its ASC2 portfolio, Boeing also supports six British Royal Air Force E-3Ds and four Boeing 767-based AWACS aircraft operated by Japan’s Air Self Defense Force. In February, the USAF awarded Boeing a $402 million contract modification to complete a mission computing upgrade of the Japanese fleet by June 2020.
The manufacturer provides ongoing support of what will soon be 14 Boeing 737-based airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft: six Australian Wedgetail aircraft; three Turkish Peace Eagles, with a fourth being delivered this year; and four South Korean Peace Eye aircraft.
At the Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition and Conference in March 2014, Qatar announced $23 billion in new arms orders, including three Boeing 737 AEW&C aircraft. Qatar would be the fourth customer for the AEW&C platform, which features Northrop Grumman’s Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array surveillance radar above its fuselage.