More Hawkeye Exports as U.S. Navy Introduces Enhancements

 - October 4, 2019, 3:52 AM
Japan’s 601 Hikotai has operated 13 Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeyes since 1987. An initial buy of four E-2Ds has now been followed by a batch of nine to permit a one-for-one fleet upgrade. (Photo: Japan Air Self-Defense Force)

Northrop Grumman has received a $1.4 billion Foreign Military Sales (FMS) contract from the U.S. Department of Defense covering the supply of nine E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne early warning and control aircraft. The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of the possible sale of up to nine E-2Ds to Japan in September 2018, and Japanese defense minister Takeshi Iwaya announced the deal on October 12, 2018.

The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is a derivative of the original E-2 Hawkeye, the U.S. Navy’s long-serving carrier-borne tactical airborne early warning aircraft. It is equipped with an AN/APY-9 radar, which uses an array that scans both mechanically and electronically. The new variant also features a new digital avionics suite. The advanced AESA radar is capable of detecting cruise missiles and low-observable aircraft. The E-2D includes provision for the copilot to act as a fourth tactical operator, by reconfiguring the main cockpit display to show the radar picture, IFF, and Link 16 (JTIDS)/CEC information.

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) selected the E-2D in November 2014, after evaluating it and the Boeing 737 AEW&C. Japan initially ordered a batch of four E-2Ds, at a reported cost of U.S. $945 million, with the individual aircraft being ordered separately in November 2015, July 2016, June 2018, and on October 5, 2018. Long-lead items for a fifth aircraft were ordered in November 2018. The JASDF took delivery of its first E-2D Advanced Hawkeye on May 31, 2019. The Japanese version of the E-2D is land-based and is modified with a “wet wing” containing sufficient extra fuel to boost endurance from five to eight hours.

The Advanced Hawkeyes will serve alongside Japan’s four Boeing E-767 airborne warning and control system aircraft and will augment and eventually replace 13 older E-2Cs, which entered service with the Airborne Early Warning Group’s 601st Hikotai at Misawa in January 1987, subsequently also equipping the 603rd Hikotai at Naha.

Soon after the Japanese announcement, French defense minister Florence Parly committed to ordering three E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes for the Aéronavale, the air arm of the Marine Nationale (French navy). They will be delivered in 2020 to replace three E-2C Hawkeyes currently serving with Flottille 4F at Lann-Bihoué, near Lorient, in Brittany. The French Hawkeyes regularly deploy aboard the French nuclear-powered carrier, Charles de Gaulle.

The U.S. Navy is buying 75 E-2Ds, allowing deployed squadrons to embark with five E-2Ds on each carrier. E-2C squadrons embark with just four aircraft. First flying on August 3, 2007, the E-2D joined the fleet replacement squadron—VAW-120 “Greyhawks”—in July 2010 and equipped its first front-line unit—VAW-125 “Tigertails”—in March 2014. It achieved initial operational capability in October 2014 and made its first operational deployment onboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt in 2015.

The U.S. Navy hopes to add beyond-line-of-sight networking and targeting and GPS-protection capabilities to allow the type to operate in an electronic attack environment, incorporating modifications in full-rate production lots 7-11.

One upgrade that has joined the fleet is an aerial refueling capability. A probe-equipped E-2D Advanced Hawkeye was delivered to VAW-120 at NAS Norfolk, Virginia, on September 12, and the Navy plans to transition two operational fleet squadrons to aerial refueling-capable E-2Ds by 2020.