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E-2C Leaner, Eyesight Keener

Navy Newsstand

Story Number: NNS040331-07

Release Date: 3/31/2004 6:02:00 PM

By Jim Jenkins, Naval Air Station Patuxent River Public Affairs

PATUXENT RIVER, Md. (NNS) -- The Navy's eyes and ears in the air can now see and hear better than ever, thanks to new flat-panel displays being installed in the E-2C Hawkeye.

The Hawkeye provides all-weather airborne early warning, airborne battle management, and command and control functions for carrier strike groups and joint force commanders.

"The E-2C is the centerpiece of network-centric warfare," said Gilbert Ruffin, Flat-panel Replacement Program Integrated Product Team lead. "It is the platform that will provide the eyes and ears, not only for the naval battle group, but for the entire DoD battle group going in and out of the theater, along with AWACS (the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System operated by the Air Force). The E-2 has been deemed very critical in the network-centric warfare picture."

The E-2C Group II Enhanced Main Display Unit (EMDU)--Flat-panel Replacement Program team, part of the E2/C2 Program Management Office (PMA-231), worked closely with contractor L-3 Communications to modernize the Hawkeye by replacing the three operator stations' enhanced main display units in the aircraft. Group II E-2Cs are the fleet's oldest Hawkeyes and the ones judged the most in need of this modernization effort.

After visiting the L-3 Communications site in Alpharetta, Ga., the flat-panel replacement team suggested a consolidation of the repair and kitting operations, which resulted in reducing the production time from four months per plane set to one month. This action also reduced the expected fleet installation schedule from four years to 15 months.

Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 121 was the first to receive the replacement kits, which included new active-matrix liquid-crystal displays (AMLCD), optical mouses and the accompanying circuit card assemblies. The AMLCDs are basically the same flat-panel LCDs used with personal computers, except the version chosen by the Hawkeye flat-panel replacement team was made to withstand the excess vibration and general rough environment of a military combat mission in the air and subsequent carrier landing.

The EMDUs are essentially radar monitor stations that display the different targets in an area where the Hawkeyes are operating. Station operators use a light pen to touch the targets on the screen to "hook" them, or identify them as targets to keep tracking. The new EMDU replaces the light pen with a mouse, improving the ability to hook the targets precisely, according to fleet feedback.

"VAW-121 was the first E-2C squadron to install the flat-panel displays late last year," said Chief Aviation Electronics Technician Thomas Rupert, Airborne Early Warning Wing Atlantic Fleet Avionics Maintenance advisor. "Since then, they have completed a very successful work-up cycle with the displays experiencing no discrepancies. Currently, the squadron is on deployment, and with the exception of some legacy card issues, the displays are performing exceptionally well."

The new flat-panel kits are projected to improve the EMDU's mean-flight-hour-between-failure by 107 percent, while the reliability, maintainability and availability is supposed to improve by two times over the original EMDU system, according to Ruffin. Because of the lighter weight of the new flat panels, only one maintainer is required. The older EMDUs needed two. Each new EMDU kit is 40 pounds lighter than the original one, making each Hawkeye 120 pounds lighter.

"Because of the weight of the flat panel versus the weight of the [original] EMDU, the maintainer can pull it out, set it on a stand, and get it out of the plane himself without taking two people," Ruffin said. "Then when they get it in the AIMD, the maintenance shop, they can work on it by themselves without taking two people to move it all around."

Rupert said these new flat-panel displays are welcomed with open arms by operational and intermediate-level aviation electronics technicians.

"They are lighter, more reliable, and offer a much better display than the legacy EMDU ever did," Rupert said. "As with any new system, however, there will be growing pains. But this one we can easily get our arms around and manage."

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