Aircraft to fly in August, as production cost rises

Northrop Grumman has unveiled the first E-2D Advanced Hawkeye equipped with a Lockheed Martin APY-9 electronically-scanned radar offering a 300% larger search capability and an increased operational role as an airborne battle management system.

Revealed at Northrop's Saint Augustine plant in Florida on 30 April, the test aircraft is the first of two to be built during the E-2D programme's $2 billion system development and demonstration phase, with the US Navy planning to spend $15 billion to develop and produce 75 examples over the next two decades.

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The US Navy's new E-2D will be able to co-ordinate airborne strikes

Unlike its predecessors, the new Advanced Hawkeye will be able to co-ordinate airborne strikes against air, land and naval surface targets. "The E-2D will allow warfighters to take large amounts of data from multiple sources and fuse that data for actionable intelligence," says Tom Vice, Northrop's vice-president of airborne early warning and joint battle management command and control programmes.

Programme officials say the SDD phase is on track to meet its original date for first flight of the E-2D in August 2007. However, USN leaders last year approved a "replan" of the programme after encountering several challenges during the development phase, moving two of the eight aircraft planned to be purchased during the first two years of the programme to the end of the production phase. While costs have remained fairly steady during the SDD phase, estimated production costs have leapt by $1.3 billion, according to navy budget documents.

"We learned some things along the way," says Capt Randy Mahr, the navy's programme manager for E-2/C-2 programmes. "We underestimated the number of drawings that would be required for the aircraft. Some of the material costs went up through fact-of-life cost increases." However, he says: "We've handled all of those. We have not gone back and asked for any additional funding."

The USN plans to begin an operational evaluation with the first E-2D squadron in fiscal year 2012. Potential international customers such as India and the United Arab Emirates may have to wait until this is complete before Northrop can export the aircraft.

Source: Flight International