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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.

During the Unified Vision 2016 (UV16) Trial, the NATO Joint Capability Group on ISR (JCGISR) provided the first proof of concept for a federation of Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (PED) capability.6 It allowed geographically dispersed PED units to share the burden of ISR data exploitation and intelligence dissemination at all levels of command conceptually, to the right person, at the right time, in the right format.

Secondly, UV16 facilitated the examination and optimization of J2 (Intelligence) and J3 (Operations) interaction to improve operational decision-making and support targeting. Most significantly, the Trial provided an inaugural demonstration of Command, Control, and ISR (C2ISR) interoperability between the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control (NAEW&C) Force E-3A and NATO AGS. The Warrior Preparation Center (WPC), located in Einsiedlerhof, Germany, served as the central Trial node and mock Air Operations Centre (AOC) in the Live, Virtual, and Constructive (LVC) environment. The E-3A Mission Training Centre (MTC) simulator operated from Geilenkirchen, Germany, while the AGS participated from the NATO AGS Capability Testbed (NACT), Den Haag, Netherlands.

Final Lifetime Extension Program (FLEP)

The AWACS fleet is aging and will soon face the Final Lifetime Extension Program (FLEP), which will cost the alliance around $1 billion to prolong the lifespan of the spy planes through 2035. Current efforts to modernize the AWACS will provide Multi-Domain Command and Control (MDC2) capability required to meet challenges of future operational environments. Multi-domain operations are the exploitation of asymmetric advantages across multiple domains (air, land, sea, sub-surface, space and cyberspace) to achieve freedom of action required by the mission.

As NATOs key airborne tactical BMC2 asset, the E-3As are the logical platform for future MDC2 operations. They are uniquely qualified to engage in multi-domain operations, as they already engage in air, ground and surface BMC2. The next evolution of the E-3A will expand its capabilities in the space domain and enhance many of its existing air, ground and surface abilities, to provide the technical capability for effective MDC2 in NATO 2025 and beyond.

Since 2014, the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force Program Management Agency (NAPMA) managed development of the Final Lifetime Extension Program (FLEP) to fill those capability gaps. The engineering, manufacturing, and development phase is scheduled to commence in 2019, where NAPMA will work with US and European contractors to provide a modernized, networked, secured, multi-domain capable Battle Management and Command & Control platform to serve until a replacement is fielded. FLEP will address six major areas to improve the E-3As MDC2 capabilities. These areas include:

Tactical Data Links (TDL). The FLEP will replace the existing terminal with a modern, crypto-compliant terminal capable of Concurrent Multi-netting and add IP-based, beyond line-of-sight capability with Joint Range Extension Applications Protocol C encapsulation.7 This capability will not only aid in alleviating the capacity constraints of current Tactical Digital Information Link networks, but will also allow for the adaptation of future waveforms for greater and more secure information exchange, communication and enhanced situational awareness. Alleviating the capacity constraints of todays data network environment is a pre-requisite to the amount of data that can be collected by 5th generation sensors and platforms.

Secure Communications. To meet external mandates, the voice, data, and TDL cryptographic units will be replaced with modernized units to ensure secure communications and interoperability with NATO partners.

Airborne Networking. The wide-band SATCOM antenna installed under the CNS/ATM project will be modified to increase data streaming capability to 2 Mbps, a massive increase over todays capability. This will support the integration of advanced information sharing capabilities and handle the big data (e.g. off-board sensor data) required to support operations beyond 2025.

Anti-Jam Communications. Current VHF and UHF radios will be replaced with modern, securable, anti-jam capable radios to establish and maintain communications with air, ground and surface forces in contested electromagnetic environments.

Passive Detection. The Electronic Surveillance Measure system will receive a much needed upgrade in processing capability to allow for faster emitter identification and reduction of unknown emitters. The ability to provide more timely and accurate identification of potential threats will allow the E-3A to bring order to chaos in the fight of the future.

Mission System. Due to the number of improvements added under FLEP and the advancements in computer technology since the last upgrade, the Mission Computing system will receive new hardware and a significant change in software architecture. The new features and capabilities will alleviate capacity and processing constraints of existing computer technology that is ill-equipped to handle the massive amounts of data provided by organic and inorganic sensors.

Most notably E-3As will continue to provide accurate and timely identification of air and surface targets and will gain the ability to detect, track, and identify ground targets and emitters through the ability to process off-board, ground moving target indications (GMTI). The ability to detect, track, and identify enemy movement in the air, land, and surface domain and communicate these threats beyond line-of-sight will support enhanced situational awareness and enable rapid decision making at the tactical and operational levels, allowing forces to achieve Commanders intent. Moreover, the enhanced airborne networking capability provides the necessary bandwidth to process big data to ensure timely and decisive action.



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