Northrop Grumman is banking on a mix of international new and upgraded ex-US Navy E-2C Hawkeye sales to help sustain activity at its St Augustine, Florida, plant until production of the Advanced Hawkeye starts in 2008. Near-term focus is on the United Arab Emirates and an emerging Malaysian airborne early warning (AEW) interest.

"From St Augustine's standpoint, taking recently retired aircraft and upgrading them to Hawkeye 2000s provides almost as much throughput as building a new aircraft," says Gary O'Loughlin, Northrop Grumman director international business development AEW systems. It needs to build or upgrade at least two aircraft a year, in addition to the USN's planned purchase of eight, to keep the line active from 2004 to 2007.

Northrop Grumman is hoping to build on the recent sale of a surplus USN E-2C Group 0 aircraft to Egypt. The aircraft was upgraded to Hawkeye 2000 standard, providing around 18 months of work for St Augustine.

The UAE is interested in five ex-USN Group 0 aircraft (Flight International, 18-24 March). The first two would be delivered in 2005 and the remainder in 2006-7, with Northrop Grumman hoping this will spur sales to at least two other Gulf states. "The UAE is in the final evaluation process of moving forward with a similar programme and upgrade to the Hawkeye 2000 configuration," says O'Loughlin.

Malaysia has submitted a Hawkeye 2000 price and availability request to the US government for four new or upgraded second hand aircraft depending on funding. Neighbouring Thailand is seen as another potential E-2C customer.

The UAE deal will shrink the surplus E-2C pool to two or three aircraft, but the USNis due to retire its final four Group 0 aircraft in the next year. In the longer term, the navy is expected to withdraw12 Group 2 aircraft as they reach 7,000-8,000h. Although at the end of their carrier lives, they retain another 14,000-15,000h for shore-based flying, says Northrop Grumman.

Source: Flight International