NATO will begin initial operational testing and evaluation in August of the first Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) upgraded with new displays, computer systems, sensors and communications under a $1.3 billion Mid-Term Modernisation Programme.

Boeing has been awarded a follow-on contract to complete development of the new avionics package and secure long lead items for the planned retrofit of the 17 NATO aircraft. Work is due to begin in 2004 and be completed in 2008. A production go-ahead is subject to the successful completion of initial testing due by August.

The AWACS aircraft will each be fitted with five new General Dynamics Canada operator consoles, with flat panel situation displays, a new mission computing system for multi-sensor integration from EADS, digital radio communications, satcom for beyond-line-of-sight communications, broad spectrum VHF radios, a Marconi improved IFF system and upgraded navigation system with GPS.

The UK is discussing a similar avionics upgrade for the RAF's seven E-3Ds, says Steve Behnen, NATO AWACS programme manager. A phase two mid-term modernisation is also being discussed within NATO, including the option of re-engining the NATO aircraft with either the CFM International CFM56-2 or Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219 powerplant. A final decision on this is expected soon.

NATO's E-3A fleet has already received a sensor upgrade under the Radar System Improvement Programme to increase the radar's detection capabilities.

Source: Flight International