Plans includes new communications links, radar improvements and LCD screens

The UK Royal Air Force is to replace the mission-console displays in its Boeing E-3D Sentry AEW1 airborne early warning aircraft to improve the system's capabilities and the operational utility.

Seven Sentrys are in RAF service, each with nine mission consoles. The Ministry of Defence says the aircraft's cathode-ray tube displays may become obsolescent in the near future and now is seeking around 100 displays. Potential suppliers were required to submit proposals by the end of last week.

RAF sources say a liquid crystal display (LCD) has been tested on the mission system simulator at RAF Waddington. But operators say it is less clear than in-service screens.

Crews have also criticised the small number of radio types on RAF aircraft - one satellite communications (satcom) link, three HF and nine V/UHF - much lower than on US Air Force-operated E-3s. As a result of Afghanistan operations, which the RAF has supported from the outset, the Sentrys are to receive two more V/UHF radios and another satcom system.

Other upgrades include the Radar System Improvement Programme for the Northrop Grumman APY-2 radar, Honeywell GPS satellite/inertial navigation system and two LCD displays for each pilot.

Plans are progressing to tie the RAF's mission system simulator into the USAF's distributed training to boost fidelity of operational rather than procedural training.

By using the Aerosystems International-operated Lion transatlantic datalink test system, the RAF will be able to connect its Sentry training devices to USAF simulators, including fighters, E-3s, air-to-ground surveillance and electronic intelligence (ELINT) assets. An RAF source says: "Hopefully, we can do real-life, Afghan-type scenarios [operating closely with US forces], and simulator training will allow us to maintain operational skills learned during such conflicts." Using Lion will also allow crews to remain in Waddington, rather than spend time away from the home base.

Sources also expect lessons from the initiative to be fed forward as the air force begins to develop its so-called intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance triad. This comprises the Sentry, BAE Systems Nimrod R1 ELINT platforms and the Raytheon ASTOR airborne ground surveillance platform, due for service in 2005.

Source: Flight International