Boeing has resumed work on the Mid Life Upgrade program for the four Boeing E3-F AWACS flying with the French Air Force.As Boeing’s main subcontract on the project, Air France Industries will undertake most of the work at its main facility at Le Bourget Airport near Paris. Boeing is nonetheless retaining most of the main engineering and quality assurance responsibilities. The first AWACS to receive the upgrade should be able to return to service in 2014 while the rest of the fleet will fly the upgrade by 2016. The works consist of $354 million worth of hardware and software improvements. Once available on the French Air Force four E3-F AWACS, the only other user of the highly advanced variant will be the USAF as none of the others AWACS operators(NATO’ s 17 E3-C, UK’s 7 E3-D, Saudi Arabia 5 E3 nor even Japan‘s more recent E-767 platform) can claim yet such capabilities.Illustrating the might of the systems upgrades, fears that sensitive technology would be transferred to a foreign nation even prompted a stop-work order being issued in September of 2012.Adding insult to injury, a proposal to sale France a degraded version of the Block 40/45 even envisioned the client disbursing an extra $5 million in engineering cost.
That idea did not take hold following a risk review prompted by the US government, the project finally received clearance as initially specified in 2010.
The Block 40/45 Capabilities
As a previous in depth block 40/45 analysis from a previous entry recognized:
“… 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)…”
In all the AWACS mid life upgrade brings decisive engineering advantages to France’s ability to continue sourcing replacement parts. After all the AWACS still relies on the 1950’s 707 platform and is also equipped with the 1970’s AN/APY-2 radar antenna and supporting equipment. The replacement of an older IBM mainframe with networked workstations just illustrates the shift in maintainability that the Block 40/45 open architecture brings about. The operational gains for France are as well far reaching; precision navigation capabilities conforming with Eurocontrol protocols and real-time tactical data interchange with France’s Tiger attack helicopters. Most of these gains bring readily observable “mission value” to operators and planners alike. As with the USAF, France’s AWACS fleet is now set to remain in service well into the year 2030.