Northrop Grumman has held preliminary discussions with Airbus and Embraer about using either the Airbus A319 or Embraer 170 as future airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft as alternatives to the 728 in the wake of the demise of Fairchild Dornier.

The US company had been in talks with the bankrupt German-US manufacturer about developing an AEW version of the 728.

"We're still looking at the ACJ and may take a look at the 170. There are conversations that are going on," says Gary O'Loughlin, Northrop Grumman director international business development AEW Systems.

Northrop Grumman has identified a need for a turbofan-powered alternative to the E-2C turboprop to compete for future AEW business. The company wants to integrate the new Advanced Hawkeye sensor suite onto the platform.

This would include the new mechanically and electronically steered antenna and possible provision for the follow-on UHF electronically scanned array.

With the Advanced Hawkeye Radar Modernisation Programme not due to enter full-scale development before the end of the year and no near-term prospects in sight, Northrop Grumman says it would not need a jet-powered platform before 2005-06.

South Korea by then is expected to have restarted its E-X requirement, along with an expected Scandinavian requirement.

Advanced Hawkeye deliveries are scheduled to start in 2008, after which the US Navy is looking to double the rate of production of the system from four Hawkeye 2000s a year.

"We have the capacity to go to 12 aircraft a year at St Augustine. There is a desire on the part of the navy to increase the number of E-2s on a carrier from four to six to as many eight," says O'Loughlin.

The US Navy is looking to broaden the E-2C's traditional maritime AEW mission to include theatre missile defence and littoral warfare.

With delivery in 2006 of the last of 21 Hawkeye 2000s funded under the current multiyear programme, the USN is planning a follow-on purchase of seven to eight aircraft in 2006-07 to keep the line active until the transition to Advanced Hawkeye.

Source: Flight International