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Final AWACS Aircraft Gets Equipment Upgrade

Final AWACS Aircraft Gets Equipment Upgrade

By Chuck Paone, Electronic Systems Center Public Affairs.

Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts -- February 26, 2001 (AFPN) -- The Air Force will place its final Block 20/25 E-3 Sentry aircraft in the depot in March to upgrade its navigation, computer, communications and radar equipment. This will give the Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft more capability and eliminates one configuration.

An E-3 Sentry Air Warning and Control Systems lands at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. The Air Force will place its final Block 20/25 AWACS aircraft in the depot in March to upgrade its navigation, computer, communications and radar equipment, giving the aircraft more capability and eliminating one configuration. (Courtesy photo)

The upgrade, called Block 30/35, started in 1994 and should be completed during the next several months, said 1st Lt. Sarah Kreps, AWACS Block 30/35 modernization program manager. The last of the 32-plane fleet should be released by September.

"Going into the final phase of the Block 30/35 upgrade means that every AWACS plane in the air will have a strong, base level of capabilities," said Col. Brad Butler, AWACS system program director. "Now there will be no AWACS flying with anything less than 30/35 technology."

Putting this final aircraft into depot is the last stage of a fairly long process. Needing to keep most of the planes in service at any given time to meet mission requirements mandated the need for the length of the upgrade program, according to Maj. Martin Balus, Aerospace Command and Control and Integration, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Center liaison to the AWACS program office.

"This is a low-density, high-demand asset," Balus said. "Only a small number of AWACS can be taken off line at any time because these aircraft are constantly needed to support worldwide taskings and aircrew training."

The upgrade has four main components, said officials from the AWACS program office here and its partners at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center, at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.

First is installing the Global Positioning System navigation equipment. The older inertial navigation system it replaces was less accurate and required frequent inputs from the navigator, said Lt. Col. Rick Buschelman, AWACS navigator and Tinker AFB's 552nd Air Control Wing plans and requirements director. GPS, on the other hand, receives automatic updates from satellites and provides more consistent positional accuracy throughout the mission.

"It's leaps and bounds ahead of what we had," Buschelman said. "The navigator's job changes from having to constantly take fixes to update the navigation equipment to relying on satellites and monitoring the accuracy."

Buschelman said that more accurate navigation leads to a more accurate air picture.

The E-3s undergoing the 30/35 upgrade also receive enhanced computer memory. This gives crews expanded databases, faster processing, reduced weight and increased reliability, Balus said.

"Computers on AWACS have always been reliable, but now they're even more so," said Maj. Sean Mercadante, 552nd ACW plans chief and AWACS mission crew commander.

The third upgrade component is installing the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System Class II Terminal. This expands the capability to link with joint and coalition command and control platforms.

The most significant feature of the upgrade, Balus said, is adding electronic support measures, better known as ESM, equipment that allows AWACS to detect things that emit electronic signals such as other radars and radios. This is a capability the 20/25s did not possess.

Overall, "the difference (between 20/25 and 30/35) is night and day," said Mercadante, who served as mission crew commander for the final 20/25 training sortie.

Eliminating the old configuration Block 20/25 AWACS planes not only puts higher-tech aircraft in the air and increases mission capability, it reduces the number of configurations from three to two. Those are Block 30/35 and Block 30/35 with Radar System Improvement Program capability.

The RSIP program, referred to as "sharpening the eye of the eagle," upgrades the aircraft's radar capability. Eventually all E-3s will be RSIP-capable.

Eliminating one of the three current configurations -- the Block 20/25 -- makes it easier to perform the AWACS mission, from several standpoints, Balus said. For one thing, it makes logistics easier. With two configurations, only two sets of spares, two sets of parts and two sets of equipment are needed.

A second major advantage is training, he said. Crews now need only be trained in two configurations.

The third major benefit is that the upgrade simplifies scheduling. Only aircraft of the same configuration are deployed on the same mission at the same time, so having the pool of assets divided into three configurations complicated deployment scheduling.

"The high (operations) tempo at which the AWACS fleet operates poses significant challenges," Balus said. "Going to two configurations dramatically improves the situation."

Butler said while this upgrade is truly significant, September's anticipated completion date might be even more so.

"This is another step along the path to making this critical command and control system more state-of-the-art," he said. "With completion of this upgrade later this year, we'll truly have hit a major milestone -- a full fleet of E-3s that can detect more, communicate better and process more information faster than ever." (Courtesy of Air Force Material Command News Service)

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).