Northrop Grumman has made launching the E-2C Advanced Hawkeye and bridging the gap between the programme and the end of Hawkeye 2000 production its highest priorities, rather than taking a near term decision on the Fairchild Dornier 728JET as an alternative airborne early warning (AEW) platform.

"We're continuing to study alternative platforms, but we have other priorities. We're focused on getting the Radar Modernisation Programme (RMP) into engineering and manufacturing development and we must compete for resources to do that," says Gary O'Loughlin, Northrop Grumman AEW director international business development.

The company's second priority is the gap between delivery of the last of 21 new Hawkeye 2000s to the US Navy in early 2006andthe possible start of Advanced Hawkeye production in 2007. This timetable hinges on the USN securing funds in 2003 to start RMP development with a 2010 initial operational capability target.

To keep active the E-2 production line, the USN will need to begin funding in 2004 additional Hawkeye 2000s or upgrade some of its 54 E-2C Group 2 aircraft. The navy needs 75 Hawkeye 2000s.

If RMP is launched in 2003, the USN could have the option of converting some Group 2 aircraft to Advanced Hawkeyes. These would incorporate an electronically scanned antenna (ESA), infrared search and track and a tactical glass cockpit, as well as the Hawkeye 2000's new mission computer, workstations, satellite communications and co-operative engagement capability.

Northrop Grumman AEW business development manager Ken Tripp cautions, however, that upgrading E-2C Group 2 to Advanced Hawkeyes will "almost approach the cost of a new-build aircraft". The aircraft will have a new ADS-18 phased array antenna housed in the existing 7.3m (24ft) diameter rotodome.

The 728JET would be aimed at operators wanting a larger and more modern platform than the E-2C turboprop. With uprated 65kVA generators, the regional jet could mount the present APS-145 or ESA radar and accommodate eight or more workstations. A critical goal is to be able to offer four platforms, enough for one orbit, for under $500 million.

"This is a hard target to beat," concedes O'Loughlin. "The 728 is not the only option on the table. You could do the mission with a high altitude unmanned aerial vehicle such as Global Hawk."

Source: Flight International