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US Air Force Seeking AWACS Replacement Proposals

The US Air Force has issued a request for information to replace its E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft.

The service wants industry partners to deliver two manned prototypes, ground support, and training equipment by 2028. However, the airforce clarified that the request for information does not tie the service to a contract.

Future Aircraft Requirements

As part of its plan to replace the plane, the service is requesting features such as “advanced airborne moving-target indication radar, identification friend or foe capabilities, electronic support measures, battle management /command and control mission system with integrated on and off-board communications.”

Additional requirements include the “ability to conduct radar-based maritime surveillance missions, an integrated self-defense suite, built-in full mission awareness in the cockpit, boom/receptacle air-to-air refueling capability, M-code global positioning system, mobile user objective system communications, [and] automatic identification system receiver.” 

Change in Plan?

The development is an apparent departure from the Pentagon’s earlier plan of exploring the Boeing E-7A Wedgetail as a possible E-3 replacement. It had asked the company to study the suitability of the aircraft for possible acquisition.

The Pentagon wrote, “The government intends to award a sole source time and materials contract to the Boeing company to perform studies, analyses, and activities required to ascertain the current E-7A baseline configuration and determine what additional work the government might need to accomplish meeting USAF configuration standards and mandates.” 

A few days before the November notice, Boeing vice president for defense business development Mike Manazir backed the aircraft to replace the E-3. He stated at a press conference that the air force would announce the decision next year.

US Air Force E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft
A US Air Force E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft flies in support of Operation Inherent Resolve August 30, 2017. Image: US Air Force/Staff Sgt. Michael Battles

The Sentry

The Boeing E-3 has a modified Boeing 707/320 commercial airframe with a 30-ft (9.1-m) rotating radar disk atop the fuselage. The radar has a range of more than 250 miles (375.5 kilometers) and subsystems, including “avionics, navigation, communications, sensors (radar and passive detection) and identification friend or foe tools.”

The air force began inducting the aircraft in 1977, with the last unit delivered in 1984. Currently, the air force operates 31 E-3s, 27 with the Air Combat Command, and four with the Pacific Air Forces.

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