The first Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft for Japan is in the process of being built, and the manufacturer has been awarded a contract worth $286 million to perform modifications to take it to Tokyo's specifications.

Part of a four-strong requirement for the Japan Air Self-Defence Force, the first example was ordered in November 2015. This was followed by a 5 January award to modify the aircraft to include extended endurance for the nation's land-based type.

The US Navy is the primary operator of the Hawkeye, and is exploring an in-flight refuelling capability so the E-2D can carry out longer-duration missions from its carriers. The adaptation is expected to be achieved by 2020.

Japan, however, bases its aircraft on the land, so can effectively take-off with the extra fuel in a “wet wing” configuration, meaning in-flight refuelling is not a concern for the operator.

“The main difference is that the US Navy chose to go with in-flight refuelling that allows the E-2D to deploy off the [aircraft] carrier and refuel for longer missions,” Jay Mulhall, Northrop's director of global strategy and mission solutions, tells Flightglobal.

The Japanese aircraft will instead carry the extra fuel, which will allow it to operate for up to 8h, instead of a standard 5h.

E-2D Advanced Hawkeye - Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman

The January contract also covers other Japanese-specific modifications, which Mulhall declines to disclose, as well as support and other non-recurring work – such as establishing the aircraft’s base at Misawa.

First delivery is expected in spring 2018. It has yet to be determined if Japan will fulfil its authorised four-aircraft requirement, but Tokyo's spending tends to allow for a one-per-year buy of each capability.

The E-2Ds will augment, rather than replace the 13 E-2C Hawkeyes in operation with Japan's air force, Mulhall says.

Meanwhile, the USN has successfully carried out its first deployment of an E-2D squadron, which returned from a nine-month tour of the service’s 5th, 6th and 7th Fleet areas of responsibility at the end of 2015.

Assigned to Carrier Air Wing 1’s VAW-125 “Tigertails” squadron, based at NAS Norfolk in Virginia, five aircraft were deployed on-board the Nimitz-class carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt last March.

Mulhall says 22 aircraft from a required 75 for the USN, have been delivered to date, six of which were handed over in 2015. The service's E-2Ds are being procured under a 26-aircraft, multi-year contract covering the period 2014-2018. “We are executing on time for that plan,” he adds.