Cruise missile defence has eclipsed ground target sensing and aerial battle management to become the primary mission and chief selling point for the US Air Force's emerging E-10A platform.

USAF leaders signed a directive in early February that recasts the E-10A's roles and missions to emphasise the platform's unique capability to detect and track low-flying cruise missiles, industry sources say. The directive also reclassifies two featured E-10A missions as subordinate roles - serving as a hub in the multi-sensor command and control architecture (MC2A) and eventually replacing the ground moving target indicator (GMTI) capability now provided by the Northrop Grumman E-8 JSTARS airborne ground surveillance system.

The air force plans to spend $5.3 billion to develop and build five E-10As based on the Boeing 767-400ER design. There are also proposals to develop E-10 variants to succeed the Boeing E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System and an electronic warfare payload to replace the Lockheed Martin EC-130 Compass Call fleet.

Cruise missile defence is now the "number one priority" for the E-10A, says Raytheon MC2A battle management command and control (BMC2) suite programme manager Justin Monger.

The elevation of cruise missile defence's status comes after USAF leaders scrambled in recent months to defend the programme from imminent budget cuts. Critics questioned the need to deploy a new GMTI sensor while the air force already spends billions to acquire the Space Based Radar and to operate and upgrade the JSTARS fleet.

Unlike the E-10A's proposed GMTI sensor and BMC2 hub, the military has no other aerial cruise missile defence system that offers a comparable capability. Secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld has labelled it a key area of concern.

The E-10A's payload includes the Northrop Grumman-Raytheon multi-platform radar technology insertion programme, which provides upgraded GMTI functions and a focused airborne radar capability used for tracking cruise missiles.

An initial design review for the widebody testbed is scheduled for June. A Northrop Grumman-led team leading the E-10A integration effort completed a systems requirements review on 5 February.

Source: Flight International