PART II THE FLEET UPGRADES
This is a follow up to our April 11th 2011 introductory part which described the AWACS AN/APY-1/-2 main radar tactical modes and hardware as well as supporting processing equipment aboard the aircraft. Systems upgrades implemented in an effort to meet evolving 21st century battlefield challenges involve; increasing the main radar ability to detect smaller radar cross section, stealthier aerial threats (cruise missiles, stealth combat aircraft and drones), improving precision navigation while complying with current air traffic regulations, improving secure tactical communications, better identification of radar emitting sources (Electronic Support Measures ESM), increasing crew effectiveness and also improving connectivity in the era of network centric tactical data links. Critical to improving the main radar sensitivity, the Radar System Improvement Program (RSIP), AWACS largest upgrade program ever was implemented across the entire AWACS fleet spanning six operators and more than seventy aircraft during the past decade. RSIP is our reference point for capturing the pace of systems evolution across the entire AWACS fleet.
I Upgrades leading up to RSIP; the block 20/25 configuration
Upgrades implemented on AWACS on the period leading up to the RSIP generally fell under the Block 20/25 baseline designation. The incremental nature of defense funding processes would sometimes force intermediate configurations designations like Block 0 and Block 1 to appear in records.
1. US AIR Force Fleet
The first upgrade for US AWACS was in an effort to bring the first 24 E3-A aircraft delivered in line with the E-3B configuration standard as implemented on NATO’s 18 aircraft and last 10 US AWACS delivered aircraft. The E-3B introduced the AN/APY-2 radar and its maritime capability thanks to dedicated maritime cabinet and circuitry that differentiated both E3-A and E3-B designations. Retro-fitting of the 24 early USAF aircraft also brought the E3-C designation interchangeably applied, along with -A-/B designation to the entire US/NATO AWACS force. These retro-fits also saw the installation of four additional operator consoles with accompanying computer memory upgrade. Tactical data link improvements were also available with NATO maritime Link 22 and Link 16 TADIL-J compliant Joint Terminal Information Distribution System JTIDS (replacing Link 11/ TADIL-A).
a. Block 20/25
By 1987 upgrades contracted to Boeing already improved the detection capabilities, data link communications, data processing and overall navigation capabilities. Also Electronic Support Measures (ESM) allowed the AWACS main radar receiver to detect sources of hostile radar activity. The ESM kits were procured at a pace of 6 in 93, 9 in 95 and the rest by the year 2001. In the meantime Have-Quick anti-jam radio were procured in 1989. The Have Quick A-Net UHF Line-Of-Sight tactical radios AN/ARC-164 frequency hopping provide secure, anti-jam communications with other AWACS, tactical aircraft and ground stations. Fleet-wide installation of the Have-Quick radios was completed in 1994.
b. Extend Sentry Program (1994-2025)
The Extend Sentry Program, set up in October 1994 by U.S. Air Force Air Combat Command (ACC) and the Air Force’s Electronic Systems Center (ESC), aimed at prolonging the life of the fleet to 2025. Most critical of issues was the rapid obsolescence of parts for which an inventory of spare had deteriorated due to end of life cycle or manufacturer/supplier being out of business. The program would establish key management tasks and business processes required to minimize overall fleet downtime during depot maintenance, as these were the most pressing operational issues for the entire 552nd Air Control Wing. Engineering and testing would be incorporated into the overall processes. Most noteworthy system installation for the program was the High Frequency radio kits that were installed in 2001 by Raytheon Support Services. The 33 kits built by Rockwell Collins Government Systems used Boeing supplied installation kits.
2. NATO Fleet
NATO E-3C AWACS have maintained almost identical configuration with the US Air Force AWACS leading to increased numbers of joint procurement programs generating better cost and risk reduction.
a. Computer Memory Upgrade (1993)
Expanding the AWACS main computer processing capabilities allowed for correlating of a larger variety of parameters in order to produce a more complete profile of threats from an increasing number of integrated sensors. In 1993 a memory upgrade program for the IBM mainframe CC-2 computer led to its replacement by the more powerful CC-2E model.
b. Extend Sentry (1994-2025)
Extend Sentry program implemented in 1994 jointly with the US Air Force saw the delivery of 33 HF radio kit for the US Air Force fleet , we assume that commonality has also been achieved in that respect with the Rockwell Collins-built HF radio kits being made available on NATO aircraft.
c. Block 1 (1993-1997)
The Block 1 configuration baseline was contracted in 1993 to provide the ESM upgrade that would allow the aircraft to locate more effectively enemy radar. That contract also covered the installation of new color displays (supplied by GEC Marconi, formerly Hazeltine), Have Quick Line of Sight UHF ultra secure radios (with suppliers EG&G Almond, Magnavox and Xetron) and the ubiquitous tactical communication data Link 16-compatible JTIDS (from Rockwell Collins). The $294 million apportioned for the actual upgrade procurement included a $35 million supplement for testing before completion in 1997. In November 1997, main contractors Boeing Operations International (BOI)/Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa) team in Manching, Germany, completed retrofit of all 17 E-3 aircraft with Mod Block 1 and ESM systems.
3. United Kingdom Fleet (7 E3-D)
With Have-Quick anti-jam radio procured in 1989 upgrades to improve the Interrogator Friend-Foe IFF system aboard the AWACS were carried out between 1997 and 2000. Associated purchases worth $7 million with Boeing Defense and Space Group, Seattle, Washington were made on September 22nd,1997 providing 7 Improvement Kits, 8 Circuit Card Assemblies, and update of associated documentation.
4. France Fleet (4 E3-F)
French AWACS benefited from Have-Quick anti-jam radio being procured in 1989 along with the United Kingdom. On January 27th,1997 a $32.4 million contract with Boeing Defense and Space Group, Seattle, Wash., was later increased by $26.6 Million on March 30th 1998 for four new Electronic Support Measure systems applicable to the E-3F Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft. With work expected to be completed by December 2000. Upgrade on the first plane was completed July 8th 1999 with the complete fleet ready by December 18th 2000.
5. Saudi Arabia Fleet (5 AWACS E3)
A $5.7 million contract with Boeing Defense and Space Group, Seattle, Wash., was awarded on September 16, 1997 for submitting engineering proposals for the Block 35.3 software upgrade to the Royal Saudi Air Force E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft and ground support equipment. The Block 35.3 software upgrade was complemented by increase of memory on the IBM CC-2Er main mission computer system designated Block 0.
The Block 0 portion initiated November 19th 1997 actually awarded Lockheed Martin Federal Systems, Inc., Owego, N.Y., with $14 millions for study and engineering proposals for CC-2Er memory upgrade on five aircraft and was finalized on June 1st 1998 with a $33 million contract for 5 AWACS and 2 ground stations to be completed by 1999. Work for the total $60 million package deal with Boeing began August 22nd 2001 and was completed September 18th 2003.
The Saudi AWACS capabilities were expanded further by the improvement of tactical data communication systems when the Link 16 secure jam resistant upgrade worth $49.2 million was undertaken. The contract signed on September 20th,2007 saw the first aircraft upgraded by July 2008 with the remaining four aircraft slated to receive their new equipment at Al Salam Aircraft Co. in Riyadh.
II The Radar System improvement program (RSIP) in details
TheRSIP upgrade really began development in 1994 with Low Rate Initial Production reached in 1996 with the UK joining the program. Full production status ensued in 1997. According to Northrop Grumman the RSIP was the most significant effort to improve the performance of the AN/APY-1/-2 radar delivering greater radar range resolution (augmented six-fold) with azimuth and elevation accuracy doubling. Overall capabilities were enhanced in keeping with modern aerial threats requirements such as small cruise missiles and reduced Radar Cross Section (stealth) aircraft. The implementation of new signal processing facilities (advanced Pulse Doppler waveforms, pulse compression) supported by the main computer hardware upgrades and installation of modern Graphical User Interface-based operator display promised overall mission efficiency increase by a factor of 1.5.
1. USAF Fleet (January 13,1997 to April 5th 2005)
Because of the multi-national nature of the program the first RSIP contract installment procured only 4 retrofit kits assigned to the US fleet (with 18 kits for NATO as well as 8 for the UK all part of the same $482 million package). Additional options of 8 would be exercised by September 30th 1998. Software upgrades accounting for a $6 million support contract involving Boeing Defense and Space Group, Seattle, Washington (25%) and Westinghouse Electric Corp., Baltimore, Maryland (75%) involved the following deliverables: scoping of software related work inclusive of cataloging, prioritization, investigation, and analysis of software relevant problems, evaluation, coordination, implementation, and delivery of changes. More hardware memory increase on the legacy IBM mainframe-based CC-2E computer was key to unlocking further processing capabilities. Lockheed Martin Federal Systems, Inc., Owego, N.Y., was contracted January 31,1997 with requirement to complete work by March 2000.
Below is a sample shopping list for $23 million to Boeing Defense and Space Group, Seattle, Washington, covering part of the RSIP upgrade work dated August-September 1997 procuring 15 Improvement Kits:
-30 Circuit Card Assemblies,
-upgrade of 32 Receiver/Transmitters
-upgrade of 5 Radar Target Data Processors applicable to the Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system
-software upgrade Electronic Command Signal Program
Installation of Broadcast Intelligence capability as part of tactical data link real time networking required 32 communication kits and 8 processor kits ordered June 26th 1998. Core Radar computer required the installation of two 91MB disks for the Radar Disk Processor sub system worth $5.9 million contracted September 25th 1998. An additional October 28th 1998 shopping list with Boeing Defense and Space Group, Seattle, Washington, valued at $16 million ordered seven Electronic Command Signals Programmer replacement kits and seven A3 circuit cards, part of the new cost efficient Open Computing Architecture (and its Windows-like modern graphical interface). Core computer and signal processing components such as 31 digital multiplexer units, 15 monolithic memory units, and 11 circuit card assemblies supporting the CC-2E mainframe computer were ordered on September 16th 1999 to Lockheed Martin Federal Systems, Inc.,under a $5.8 million contract. Two hundred and forty (240) Klystron tube high power signal amplifiers repair kits, the heavy component of the radar transmit assembly carried in the AWACS cargo hold were ordered on November 10, 1999 to Litton Systems, Inc., San Carlos, California valued at $20 million. Another element that was key to the upgrade was the Common Large Area Display Sets, 435 of which were ordered on May 19th, 2000 to Raytheon Corp., McKinney, Texas,for $6.58 million. The contract terms placed delivery rate at 45 units delivered each month.
Core Radar Components
Core Radar Component items involving RSIP modification work for the radar, part of a June 9th 2000, $45 million contract covered the modification of two Transmit Angle Controls with purchase of ten thermal assemblies, augmented on November 15th 2000 in the order of $62 million by:
-five radar kits
-ten in-flight maintenance spares,
-19 High Voltage Auxiliary spares kits,
-special test equipment for the Avionics Integration Support Facility
-six spare Transmit Angle controls
-15 spare Thermal Assemblies to be modified to the RSIP configuration.
By June 28th 2001 the program was already beginning to generate results as 7 aircraft had reached Initial Operational Capability IOC. Soon after the USAF exercised its final option for 13 RSIP kits on November 19th 2001 with a $98 million contract.
On April 5th 2005 the 32 USAF operational AWACS completed RSIP ahead of schedule and on budget.
2. NATO Fleet RSIP Upgrades (1997-2000)
Again we find the NATO portion of the multi-national RSIP contract also involving the US Air Force and the United Kingdom. The same initial kit purchase allocating $482 million on January 13th 1997 for procurement of 4 kits for the US Air Force provisioned 18 kits for NATO as well as 8 for the UK. Lockheed Martin Federal Systems, Inc., Owego, N.Y., was selected for the $30 million memory upgrade contract for the mainframe computer aboard thirteen E-3B NATO Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft. The first retrofit kit was installed on September 30th 1998. Additional contracting with Boeing Defense and Space Group, Seattle, Wash., was sought and finalized August 24th 1999 for $5 million in engineering and manufacturing development of multi-sensor integration of the Electronic Support Measures with improvements of the processing capabilities. By October 11th 1999, 11 aircraft had received the RSIP upgrade, until the entire NATO fleet of 17 aircraft was ready on February 3rd 2000.
3. United Kingdom Fleet (1997-2000)
The RSIP involving the UK fleet which was initiated in phase with the US Air Force and NATO fleets took place during the same period of time as the Block 20/25 upgrade (initiated January 13th,1997 completed December 18th 2000). Simultaneous to the RSIP, UK AWACS fleet also received new Global Positioning System and Inertial Navigation System GINS equipment equivalent to a Block 30/35. The $483 million multi sourced RSIP contract signed on January 13, 1997 also applying to the US and NATO fleets of AWACS with Boeing and subcontractor Grumman provided eight RSIP kits. As we have seen the sub contracted multi national agreements around which work upgrades would be shared involved companies such as BAE OGMA Industria Aeronautica of Portugal; TERMA Elektronik of Denmark; LOGIC of Italy; Advanced Technology Applications of Greece; TUSAS Aerospace Industries, Inc. of Turkey; and Litton Systems Canada, Ltd., SPAR Applied Systems and Computing Devices Canada of Canada. RSIP for the entire fleet was completed on December 18th 2000.
4. France Fleet (2002-2006)
The RSIP upgrade program would entail some amount of technology and work being transferred to France with the enrollment of Air France Industries and the use of a team of Boeing experts during the flight testing program at Avors AFB, AWACS home. The $133 million contract signed for France AWACS RSIP on February 8th 2002 would see work undertaken at AFI facility at LeBourget Military Airport north of Paris between 2004 and 2006. The first aircraft upgrade was completed on February 1st 2005. The program was successfully completed on June 28th 2006 after flight tests conducted by Boeing at Avors ended
5. Saudi Arabia Fleet (2008-present)
Saudi Arabia was the last AWACS operator to receive the RSIP upgrade thanks to an August 7th,2008 initial contract worth $42 million for scoping the engineering work required on the fleet and subsequent production of retro fit kits. This marked the phase I of the RSIP update program. The actual installation work was contracted as Phase II-A with a $73 million production requirement procurement portion followed by the Phase II-A actual installation work on a $20 million contract awarded September 16th 2010. On November 14, 2010 The Systems Group LLC of Bonaire, Ga was awarded a $7.87 million for technical support services to Air Force for Saudi AWACS program.
6. Japan Fleet (2007-2010)
The Japan-Radar System Improvement Program involving the four Japanese Air Self Defense Force Boeing E-767 was enacted in August 2007. The fixed-price contract worth more than $110 million mostly covered software-based upgrades. The E-767 that were delivered brand new in 1997, 1998 and 1999 had seemingly incorporated most of the hardware technological improvements that only became available to the E-3 Sentry family at a much later date. In 2010 the aircraft were slated to receive additional mission navigation systems enhancements, again it was to occur solely through new software code implementation.
III Block 30/35
The Block 30/35 generally complements the purely radar-based RSIP by extending improvements to the rest of the aircraft systems. We identify 5 distinct areas : implementing open architecture based systems, comply with modern precision air navigation standards requirements , improve radio communications (securely), tactical data links and further improve ESM capabilities via software upgrades. But because the Block 30/35 intervenes on the heels of the Block 20/25 the line between both configuration blurs easily.
USAF Fleet Communication and Navigation Improvements (2005-2009)
Following the RSIP upgrades, the AWACS fleet received additional upgrades whose scope covered a 2005 satellite communication improvement, air traffic management suite installation for compliance with FAA/ICAO/Eurocontrol requirements for unrestricted access to airspace. The DAMA (Demand Assigned Multiple Access) / GATM (Global Air Traffic Management) suite developed by Rockwell Collins was installed on the 32 US AWACS aircraft from 2005 to July 16th 2009. The DAMA multiple channel UHF voice communication system also improved overall communication. The navigation capabilities were extended to Traffic Alert Collision Avoidance System TCAS and Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum RVSM capable equipment.
NATO Fleet: The Mid Term Upgrade (1997-2008) was the repository of the Block 30/35 configuration described as “ Multi Sensor Integration (MSI), automated digital communications switching, new identification friend and foe capabilities, five additional display consoles, satellite communications and wide spectrum Very High Frequency (VHF) radios” by the Royal Air Force.
Initially contracted on November 12th, 1997 the $450 million Mid-Term Modernization Engineering, Manufacturing and Development (EMD) program lasted until 2008. By providing overall improvements in situational awareness, tracking capabilities, better integrated sensors and Windows-like human-machine displays EMD had strong similarities with USAF Block 30/35 configuration.
On December 3rd 1999 work began on the computer displays, navigation, target identification,new open architecture computer system and particularly the communication suite which needed over-the-horizon communication links (the Have Quick radio are restricted to Line-Of-Site communication) and VHF broad spectrum radios capable to inter operate with Eastern European nations. First test flight of prototype number one took place on January 30th 2000 with completion of European engineering tests and evaluation on October 24th 2002. Successful initial flight testing led to an August 2nd 2001 $24 million funding extension to continue the Mid Term Modernization EMD program.
Navigation Avionics Upgrades
Avionics upgrades that were designed to give AWACS unrestricted access to airspace in North America (FAA), Europe (Eurocontrol) and around the world (ICAO) comprised the Traffic/Aircraft Alert Collision Avoidance System (T/ACAS) and Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum (RVSM). The TCAS/ACAS I which required a new Identification Friendly-Foe IFF based transponder system was funded December 12th 2001 with $37.5 million. Between 2003 and 2005 Rockwell Collins would deliver ACAS computer, antenna and integrated vertical speed / ACAS cockpit display. Honeywell was responsible for upgrading the air data computer and Innovative Solutions and Support delivering RVSM altitude alerter. EADS (Manching,Germany) provided the IFF upgrade.
Already these contracts required active management to continue to be funded while actual work could also deliver incremented value to the operators.
By December 19th 2002, the Mid Term Modernization program was re-evaluated to $1.3 billion to extend retrofits to 17 AWACS with August 2003 as target completion date.
Again these contracts were further amended on April 29, 2004 with $524 million package for “procuring long lead items, initial spares, follow-on spares, resolution of diminishing manufacturing sources issues and time and materials support activities”.
The first Mid Term upgraded AWACS began mission system flight testing on October 14, 2004. It was successfully demonstrated that performance gains due to implementation of 5 new operator consoles allowed 2 AWACS to operate instead of 3 on some mission scenarios. Delivery of first fully ‘Mid Term’ upgraded NATO AWACS took place on December 21st 2006. All 17 aircraft were completed on November 3rd 2008. Mission simulators were also provided with their 14 consoles at Geilenkirchen Base in Germany. General Dynamic Canada had been subcontracted to supply the consoles, Thales provided the internal communication gear and EADS oversaw the multi sensor software/hardware integration.
At last the $1.32 billion program had delivered the following:
-advanced precision navigation and traffic management compatibility
-new situation display consoles with flat-panel displays and user-friendly navigation, -open architecture mission computing system (for easier cost effective hardware and software upgrades in the future),
-multi sensor integration for lower workload, better accurate reliable tracking,
-Digital communications systems for satellite communication,
-improved IFF with international air traffic management integration, more advanced GPS navigation,
-broad spectrum VHF radios for communication with eastern Europe military components.
Various contractors contributed in the following manner:
Mission Computing: General Dynamics Canada
Man-Machine Interface (MMI): EADS Defence Electronics
Multi-Sensor Integration (MSI): Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace
Communications: Thales Communications
Identification, Friend or Foe (IFF): Selex Communications S.p.A.
Navigation: Rockwell Collins, Northrop Grumman/Litton, Honeywell
Air vehicle mechanical/wiring Fiber optic cables: Intracom,Fokker Elmo,
TUSAS Aerospace Industries (TAI) ,Indra ,Spasa
Aircraft Retrofit: EADS Deutschland GmbH
Overall the mid term life upgrade program although using a different designation did bring the NATO fleet to a configuration again very similar to the US fleet Block 30/35, particularly when accounting for the avionics (TCAS, GATM, RVSM) and communication suites upgrades ( with exception for the Eastern Europe specific VHF radio capabilities).
A note on supporting the TF-33-PW-100A engines
The US air force and NATO have yet to replace the original TF-33 engines with the more powerful CFM-56 high by pass turbofans already on UK, France and Saudi Arabia AWACS. Although the TF-33 now seems likely to be around much longer on account of the higher acquisition cost of the very efficient CFM-56 flying on UK, France and Saudi Arabia AWACS. With the JT8D-219 Pratt & Whitney/Seven Q Seven venture on track to replace the TF-33 on the AWACS cousin E8 Joint STARS, a viable alternative may appear in the near future. Nonetheless the TF33 benefits from still being widely used by B-52 and KC-135 aircraft a steady flow of parts and critical components has remained open. In 2000 Pratt & Whitney (United technologies) was the recipient of $350 million for supplying the Air Force with TF-33 spare parts for 7 years. On June 18, 2007 additional $8.6 million for spare parts and 78 compressor case were provided to Electro-Methods Incorporated, South Windsor, Connecticut.
A Note On Subcontracting and Technology Transfer; The AMASSfacility
AMASS (AWACS Modernization And Sustainment Support) is the management facility providing contractual framework to AWACS-related Foreign Military Sales (FMS) for sourcing critical supplies and services throughout operational life. The process has been primarily used in support of AWACS fleet in the UK, France, Saudi Arabia and to some extent NATO. Through it, AWACS foreign operators were able to contract for more than $45 million value in 2002, 2003 primarily with Boeing defense Systems as main contractor. AMASS has greatly contributed to steering contracts requirements for some of the work to be conducted to foreign companies operating in some AWACS home nations. Procurement through FMS gave opportunity to expand the list of sub contractors to local provider such as UTA Industries (later Air France Industries), OGMA Industria Aeronautica of Portugal; TERMA Elektronik of Denmark; LOGIC of Italy; Advanced Technology Applications of Greece; TUSAS Aerospace Industries, Inc. of Turkey; and Litton Systems Canada, Ltd., SPAR Applied Systems and Computing Devices Canada of Canada. Transfer of technology was also adding value for subcontractors; German company ESW-EXTEL SYSTEMS WEDEL of Wedel received Boeing proprietary refurbishment process used on the AN/APY-2 radar domes.
Daimler-Benz Aerospace AG (Dasa) handling retrofit kits installation for NATO and British Aerospace doing the same for the U.K. AWACS. The overall list extended to Siemens Defense Systems, Germany; Kongsberg Defence Systems, Norway; Alcatel Bell NV, Belgium; Computing Devices Canada; Rockwell International and Lockheed Martin Federal Systems, United States; Computer Resources International A/S, Denmark; and Elmer S.p.A, and MID S.p.A., Italy.
On NATO AWACS we saw Rockwell Collins providing the JTIDS hardware; GEC Marconi formerly Hazeltine, delivering the color displays; and EG&G Almond, Magnavox and Xetron supplying Have Quick Radio equipment. Regarding Simulators delivered to NATO: Boeing assembled and integrated the mission simulators, General Dynamics Canada built the consoles, Thales provided internal communications and European Aeronautic Defense and Space (EADS) provided the multi sensor integration hardware and software. In all more than 15 key sub contractors from 12 nations.
IV. Block 40/45 Block 40/45
The Block 40/45 configuration represents AWACS latest set of upgrades integrating the aircraft capabilities mostly through yet newer software based implementations. The New Generation IFF (NGIFF) provides more secure transponder-based Secondary Surveillance Radar SSR Mode 5 capabilities over longer range and with implementation of the Mode S civilian aircraft feature.
The Block 40/45 is also incorporating additional modern aids to navigation that will bring the aircraft always more in line with FAA/ICAO/EUROCONTROL safety of flight rules . The Diminishing Manufacturing Sources (DMS) Replacement of Avionics for Global Operations and Navigation (DRAGON) initiative has been the driving force for the sourcing of a fully Components-Off-The-Shelf COTS Flight Management Systems avionics architecture. Funding for Required Flight Performance RFP capability in 2009 would allow pilots to conduct more fuel efficient computed take-offs, cruise, approaches and landings.
Net-Centric Capability (NCC) is finally merging with the Airborne Web Service data Access and sharing paradigm to enjoy greater benefits. In that logic connectivity is enhanced by fully IP-based Beyond-Line-Of-Site BLOS IP SATCOM. The introduction of robust chat services as the privileged medium of communication between war fighters is also mirrored aboard the aircraft. The new IP/ethernet connectivity architecture is reinforcing the open architecture solutions approach as well as providing incentive for cheaply interconnecting off-board and on-boards sensors via tactical data links. The well tested JTIDS is set to receive yet a newer Open Architecture based display employing a DII COE (Common Operating Environment) compatible Operating Systems (a choice from IBM AIX, HP-UX, Windows NT, Solaris 8, Red Hat Linux).
With Airworthiness Test successfully conducted using the TS-3 (AWACS test aircraft 3) in July of 2006 and Boeing 17-hangars sprawling new facility in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, a $44 million Low rate Initial Production (LRIP) contract will see implementation through 2011.
In February 3rd 2010 France $324 million installment covered upgraded IFF Mode S and Mode 5 capability and installation of 14 modern consoles employing the Open Architecture computing solution interfacing with better integrated sensors.
Effectively articulating AWACS upgrades program is rendered almost impossible by the high operational demands (constantly pulling aircraft away from depot) being compounded to ‘capricious’ pace of funding programs. We saw a case of a program taking almost 8 years to complete. Overall program management weaknesses are positively offset by vibrant sub contractors ecosystem created around programs. On the capability side the aircraft seems to have plenty of innovation and life ahead.
During last year Empire Challenge 2010 a NATO AWACS made use of its tactical data link to effect full control of a ScanEagle Unmanned Aerial System (UAS). The fictitious scenario exercise required the ScanEagle low altitude/high endurance craft built by Insitu Inc. (a Boeing wholly owned subsidiary) to transmit real time video images of a ground target being monitored. The experiment provides a glimpse of future ground tactical reconnaissance capabilities to come on the AWACS enhancing its Command, Control, Communication & Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance capabilities.
The high frequency of operational demands will however continue to heavily tax the aircraft life, particularly US and NATO fleets which are still hard pressed to meet various contingencies.
On March 15th 2011, Geilenkirchen base officials announcement of the operating of AWACS outside standard hours Monday-Friday 8:00 am-10:00 pm in order to fulfill ‘operational requirements’ hinted at the current operation over Lybian sky.