The US Navy has ordered a single Gulfstream G550 business jet based on the special-mission Israeli airborne early warning type for adaptation into a long-range, high-speed test range support aircraft to host telemetry equipment.
A navy contract notification published on 18 March, US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) paid $91.9 million for a green aircraft with air vehicle modifications for airborne early warning, with delivery scheduled by December 2018.
The navy has been considering this purchase since October 2013 when it released a notice calling for a replacement range support aircraft to be flown by Air and Test and Evaluation Squadron VX-30, which is based at Point Mugu, California and currently operates the radar-carrying Lockheed NP-3D "Billboard" Orion.
The G550 was selected over Bombardier’s Challenger 600, which was dismissed because the “size allotted to host the antenna is too small to meet programme technical requirements” – according to the navy’s sole-source justification document, which accompanied the award.
Boeing Global Services and Support offer to modify a 737 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) variant, but a top-mounted telemetry antenna “presents unacceptable field of view limitations” and the aircraft would have required a larger hangar at the sea test range.
Israel's G550-based conformal airborne early warning aircraft
Israel Aerospace Industries
The navy’s G550 will receive the same military-grade conformal airborne early warning (CAEW) structural modifications as the types now operated by the air forces of Israel, Singapore and Italy.
The navy selected the airframe in October 2014 and is contracting separately for integration of telemetry data-gathering systems and sensors to support a range of missions such as flight testing of naval missiles and rockets.
Israel’s CAEW aircraft provides 360° L-band active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar coverage. It entered development in 2003 and was delivered to the Israeli Air Force in 2007.
VX-30's NP-3D “Billboard” aircraft was brought out of retirement in 2010 and is now being replaced by the Gulfstream 550