Advanced Hawkeye Marches On

 - April 11, 2019, 9:43 AM
An E-2D Advanced Hawkeye of VAW-121 “Bluetails” launches from USS Abraham Lincoln in early April. The AHE is replacing the E-2C “Charlie,” with the process now around 55 percent complete. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

On April 10 the U.S. Naval Air Systems Command awarded Northrop Grumman a $3.17 billion contract modification covering ongoing procurement of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye (AHE) carrier-borne airborne early warning aircraft. The modification raises the previous Lot 7 advance acquisition contract to a multi-year, fixed-price-incentive firm contract that covers the acquisition of 24 AHEs in production lots 7-11, with work expected to be completed by August 2026. Almost $1 billion is being procured from the FY19 budget.

First flying in 2007, the E-2D represents a major overhaul of the Hawkeye concept, fitted with new electronics and communications with an accent on networking, tactical “glass” flight deck, improved Rolls-Royce T56-A-427A engines, and a new radar in the form of the Lockheed Martin APY-9 UHF system with hybrid electronic/mechanical scanning. While the antenna arrays have electronic scanning, the rotodome in which they are housed rotates, as with the earlier Hawkeye radars.

The U.S. Navy has a program of record covering the procurement of 75 AHEs to fully replace the older E-2C Hawkeyes on the Navy’s carrier decks. Full-rate production was approved in 2013, IOC (initial operational capability) was achieved in 2014, and the E-2D went to sea in 2015. In 2014 the first multi-year procurement (MYP) contract was awarded, covering 26 aircraft to bring the then-total to 51. The recent contract award completes the U.S. Navy’s planned AHE requirements, more than 40 of which have been delivered to date.

Japan has also ordered the type to replace its own E-2Cs, the first of its E-2Ds taking to the air at Northrop Grumman’s St. Augustine, Florida facility on October 9, 2017. France’s Marine Nationale is also believed to be interested in replacing the carrier-borne E-2Cs with the AHE.

The second U.S. Navy MYP contract for the E-2D comes six days after Northrop Grumman received another Naval Air Systems Command contract, which exercises an option from an earlier award to procure five aerial refueling retrofit kits for the AHE at a cost of $9.65 million. Aerial refueling permits the AHE to double its time on station.

A trials E-2D performs inflight refueling for the first time from a VX-20 KC-130 tanker. (Photo: Naval Air Systems Command)

A development contract for aerial refueling capability was awarded in 2013, and the first E-2D equipped with a probe mounted above the flight deck made its first flight at St. Augustine on December 15, 2016. It was subsequently handed over to the U.S. Navy’s VX-20 Force Aircraft Test squadron, which conducted the first in-flight refueling (from a KC-130 Hercules) on July 14, 2017.

The implementation of a fleetwide aerial refueling capability for the E-2D includes the incorporation of the system into new production aircraft from 2018 (around the 46th aircraft), and to retrofit the rest of the fleet. Three aircraft were modified for the test program. IOC is expected in late 2022.

Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman is working on a U.S. Air Force EMD (engineering and manufacturing development) contract to develop EGI-M (embedded GPS/INS-modified) technology for the E-2D. The AHE and Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor have been selected as the lead platforms to receive this next-generation GPS navigation technology.