Northrop Grumman rolled out the first of two E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning (AEW) command and control aircraft - destined for the French navy - on 28 April , with further French purchases expected.

The first French E-2C flew in March and the second will be completed in the next few weeks. The Group II E-2C is the same version as that to be provided to the US Navy. French navy personnel will complete E-2C training by early 1999, when the aircraft will begin operations aboard new carrier the Charles de Gaulle.

France paid $560 million for two E-2Cs in 1995, and has earmarked funding for a third. Rear Adm Paul Habert, chief of French naval aviation, hopes that the letter of intent for the third Hawkeye will be signed in early 1999.

A USN E-2C squadron consists of four aircraft, but France is not expected to decide until after the year 2000 on a fourth Hawkeye.

A total of 15 Group II E-2Cs is under USN contract, and the Pentagon is seeking multi-year procurement of 21 more, which would be built to the more advanced Hawkeye 2000 standard, including the co-operative engagement capability (CEC), a mission computer upgrade and new operator workstations.

USN Group II E-2Cs will be upgraded to Hawkeye 2000 standard. France's third aircraft will be Hawkeye 2000 configured. France's two Group II E-2Cs would get the Hawkeye 2000 enhancements, excluding the CEC. As part of the offset deal, France's Potez Aeronautique will build the empennage on future E-2Cs.

Northrop Grumman is also pursuing export opportunities outside France. Greece plans to buy between four and six AEW aircraft soon, and the finalists are said to include the E-2C.

Turkey is expected to launch an AEW competition in June or July for as many as six aircraft. The country is believed to favour the Boeing 767 Airborne Warning and Control System, mounting the Northrop Grumman APY-2 radar. The E-2C is also a contender, as is the Lockheed Martin C-130 with Hawkeye mission suite.

Industry sources say the US Navy has offered to let Greece and Turkey operate leased Group I E-2Cs should they buy the Hawkeye 2000 AEW aircraft.

Source: Flight International