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E-3 Sentry (AWACS) Future Upgrades

In commission since 1978, the E-3 fleet is used to track aircraft, ships, and vehicles from long range using onboard radar equipment. In order to more clearly detect its targets, the US Air Force is upgrading the 32 aircraft in the fleet.

Re-engining will replace the existing, original engines with new engines. New engines will ensure long-term viability of the platform and increase fuel-efficiency, improve reliability, and increase power quantity and quality available to on-board mission systems. Development will pursue synergies and leverage the efforts of other U.S. 707-based airframes as well as the International AWACS partners that operate the 707 AWACS (United Kingdom, France, and Saudi Arabia). Further refinement of the acquisition strategy is required to fully integrate the program into the AWACS modernization plan in FY11 and beyond.

The AWACS Bistatic UAV Adjunct is a proposed $850M+ acquisition program with prototype in FY08 and completed in 2015. High Altitude Endurance (HAE) Dark Star/Global Hawk UAVs with bistatic receivers for the AWACS radar will expand area coverage of a single E-3 orbit and with the inherent significant signal to interference ratio enhancement provide increased coverage of low RCS targets while operating inside and outside an air defense threat environment. The inclusion of the Bistatic UAV adjunct to the E-3 would allow reduced E-3 operational tempo in some theaters and the ability to cover two major regional conflicts with fewer E-3s. By only carrying the receiver, IFF interrogator and a JTIDS/JCTN transmitter package, the UAV weight limitations can be met (combat ID systems might also be included if weight and size allows). The bistatic UAV would also be able to serve as an adjunct to the E-2, TPS-75 and other air/ground radars. Most important, the Bistatic UAV is a key part of the USAF transition from the E-3 to UAVs and Space for the AWACS mission, with the mission crew on the ground. The Bistatic UAV will be able to serve as the receiver using a satellite as the radar transmitter instead of the E-3. The bistatic UAV is a common link to a reduced E-3 fleet and use of Space for surveillance of large to LO/VLO air vehicles (missiles and aircraft) in the battlespace.

The proposed Mission Crew to Ground program migrates the battle management function off of AWACS to the ground to reduce manpower and cost, centralizes C2 in GTACS, provides room for additional E-3 sensor growth, and provides a transition step to move the majority of AWACS functions from the E-3 to UAVs and Space in the 2025 time frame. This program will allow more sensor growth in volume and weight on-board the E-3 for enhanced surveillance tasks without loss of time on station, and will centralize command and control at AOC/CRC nodes in the TACS using sensor data from AWACS and other sources such as UAVs. AWACS sensor data would be downlinked using LOS and/or SATCOM similar to the ground element of JSTARS today, but using the GBS (AWACS Comm Upgrades) with satellite cross-link capability. Only the Communications Technician, Airborne Radar Technician, and the flight crew stay aboard the E-3) and training savings for the USAF. The cost concept includes four ground stations (CONUS, CONUS backup and two theater deployable). Of a 33 aircraft fleet, only 27 E-3s are converted to a sensor platform configuration. Total acquisition cost is $1.52 Billion.

NATO is moving forward to modernize its Airborne early Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft with new flight deck and avionics systems, US defense contractor Boeing said in a statement on 12 March 2015. These improvements provide NATO with an AWACS fleet that will save time and fuel, and will also decrease operational costs by allowing a reduction in the flight crew size, Boeing AWACS Program Manager Jon Hunsberger said.

The modernization is part of a NATO and US Air Force upgrade program expected to be completed in 2016 under a $394 million Air Force contract. Boeing will also upgrade an additional 13 NATO AWACS as part of a $257 million program to be completed by 2018.

The second package of these upgraded aircraft was delivered to the French Air Force in May 2015.

In an effort to upgrade its airborne early warning and control (AWAC) aircraft, in mid-2015 the US Air Force was about to spend $60 million upgrading its E-3 Sentry fleet. This operational installation marks a huge milestone for the AWACS program," Nick Grudziecki, the deputy program manager, said in a release. "And its only the first of many."

That milestone refers to the Next Generation Identification Friend or Foe (NGIFF) program offices installation of the AN/UPX-40 system. "The UPX-40 dramatically improves the detection of weak signals or maneuvering targets at maximum range and improves detection of targets at all ranges," Grudziecki added.

Arrangements for the upgrade first began in 2008, after the National Security Agency issued a mandate to ensure to that the aircraft remained effective. With Telephonics Corp. developing the hardware since 2012, the Air Force will receive its first upgrade this year.

"The role of the E-3 is to carry out airborne surveillance and command, control and communication function for both tactical and air defense forces," Lt. Col. Chris Williams said. "The interrogator is a vital piece of equipment required for AWACS to meet mission needs." "With the successful installation of the first UPX-40 system, we are one step closer to equipping the fleet." The Air Force expected all 32 aircraft to be upgraded by 2020.

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