Northrop Grumman is considering a wider role for the E-2C, providing it with full battle-management capability and making it an active decision-making node in the US Navy's future network-centric architecture. This would build on the next planned Advanced Hawkeye evolution of the airborne early warning system - full-scale development, which is due to start this year.

The company-funded study is examining potential for multi-sensor fusing of on- and off-board intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data, including that from unmanned air vehicles such as the proposed Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk naval variant. This would permit the E-2C to analyse remotely acquired targets and approve weapon release.

Northrop Grumman's proposed E-2C battle management command, control, communications and computers (BMC4) and ISR targeting role would leverage off investment in the Advanced Hawkeye to be fielded around 2009.

This is expected to include a surveillance infra-red search and track (SIRST) sensor to augment the E-2C radar for theatre ballistic-missile air defence, and a digital glass cockpit with a fourth tactical display position.

BMC4/ISR targeting could become a feature of the E-2C as early as 2012 if the USN backs the concept. The idea came from Northrop Grumman's broad-area maritime surveillance study for the USN using the Global Hawk. SIRST-equipped E-2C could provide target identification, and exercise sensor or vehicle control of an adjunct UAV system.

Northrop Grumman has produced a tactical cockpit demonstrator and tested the SIRST on a live ballistic-missile target, though funding has been separate from Advanced Hawkeye. Other elements are a new modular communications system and the radar modernisation programme (RMP), which is in pre- system development and demonstration (SDD). The RMP review is due in July, followed by the award of a full SDD contract in November to Lockheed Martin and partners Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

Source: Flight International