The UK Royal Air Force's experience during Operation Allied Force over Kosovo has confirmed a requirement to increase the number of mission consoles in its Boeing E-3D Sentry AEW1s from nine to 14.

A need to install additional radios on the airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft has also been identified.

RAF Sentrys operating from Aviano, Italy, during Allied Force provided an AWACS presence, controlling combat air patrol, strike and tanker aircraft while liasing with other command and control assets over the southern sector of the Yugoslav war zone.

Although nine mission stations proved adequate during the conflict, operator workload was high. "We did very well, but we could do even better with more seats," says one RAF mission system operator.

Adding five operator stations would also bring RAF Sentrys into line with US Air Force-operated E-3s and those of the multinational NATO AEW Force which are already scheduled to receive additional mission consoles.

The timescale is not clear because the procurement process is at the beginning of its cycle. During Allied Force, an urgent operational requirement (UOR) was raised for fitting an on-board mission management system.

A UOR was also raised for additional radios when Allied Force ended, bringing to a close the use of the expedited procurement procedure. Extra radios are needed because "there's always someone who needs to talk to the AWACS", adds the RAF operator.

The Kosovo conflict also saw the number of weapons controllers - who control the friendly air assets - carried on RAF Sentrys increased from two to three.

Source: Flight International