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UK E-3D 2000 upgrade to allow joint operations

The RAF wants better ESM for its E-3Ds

The Royal Air Force is beginning an upgrade of the Boeing E-3D Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) fleet, dubbed E-3D 2000. The initial element will take shape in April when the first of the RAF's seven E-3Ds will have completed the Radar System Improvement Programme (RSIP) upgrade to install a new radar computer and supporting systems.

Boeing signed the RSIP contract with the UK in 1996 and is also installing the package on USAF and NATO E-3s. The equipment offers significant performance improvements, including the ability to detect targets up to 10 times smaller than at present.

The RAF says a decision will be made this year on a replacement for the E-3D's Loral 1017 Yellow Gate electronic support measures (ESM) system. This is a pressing requirement, with RAF E-3D operative crews claiming it compares unfavourably with the system used on French and USAF E-3s. "They are getting a high degree of accuracy detecting and identifying radar emissions with their systems" says an RAF officer. The service also wants to install new high frequency, satellite and secure very high frequency radios on the E-3D, the latter dedicated to communications with ground forces. A commercial-off-the-shelf windows-based open architecture for the on-board computer system is envisaged for introduction from 2004/5 to improve data manipulation and transfers.

The E-3 upgrade is part of the RAF's plan to form a "triad" of advanced sensor platforms to provide commanders with information dominance on future battlefields. The Boeing E-3D Sentry AEW1, British Aerospace Nimrod R1 and the future airborne stand-off radar (ASTOR) aircraft will pool their data to provide a complete picture of the air, sea and land battle.

The RAF is looking closely at incorporating the tactical ballistic missile defence capabilities of the US Navy's Hawkeye 2000 in the E-3D 2000 package. Known as "co-operative engagement", this allows missile batteries to engage hostile targets solely on the basis of data from remote sensor platforms.

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