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Boeing Updates Flight Deck and Avionics of First NATO AWACS

 

Boeing recently completed the first flight of a NATO E-3A Sentry Airborne Warning and Control (AWACS) updated with modernized flight deck and avionics systems, according to a company press release.

Because the AWACS platform dates from the early 1970s, its avionics are not up to 21st century standards and are increasingly hard to keep operational because the parts are often no longer produced.

Testers evaluated five full-color “glass cockpit” displays, each with customizable engine, navigation, and radar data, during the successful two-hour flight flown on the last day of 2014. The aircraft now enters an extensive flight test qualification phase. Delivery of this first modernized Sentry is scheduled for January 2016, and a total of 14 NATO AWACS as well as 31 U.S. Air Force aircraft are to be modernized under the DRAGON program, which stands for Diminishing Manufacturing Sources Replacement of Avionics for Global Operations and Navigation. Because the AWACS platform dates from the early 1970s, its avionics are not up to 21st century standards and are increasingly hard to keep operational because the parts are often no longer produced. In addition, the existing flight deck avionics do not meet International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards for aircraft fling within international airspace as of this year. The modernization of the first NATO AWACS, along with a U.S. Air Force Sentry, is covered under a $394 million Air Force contract that was first awarded in 2012.

E-3A Sentry anniversary colors

This specially painted 25th anniversary AWACS was first presented in 2007 as part of the celebration of the NATO E-3A Component’s 25th anniversary. NATO photo

The Air Force Sentry is expected to make its first flight in 2016.

“These improvements provide NATO with an AWACS fleet that will save time and fuel and will also decrease operational costs by allowing a reduction in the flight crew size,” Jon Hunsberger, Boeing AWACS program manager said in the release.

This is the third modernization program for NATO’s Sentries, following the Near-term Modernization Program between 1991-2000, and the Mid Term Modernization Program completed in 2008, both of which focused on radar, combat systems, and electronic support measures. Air Force Sentries have undergone the upgrades as well.

Thirteen more NATO AWACS will receive the upgrades as part of a $257 million modification program, beginning next year and expected to be completed in 2018. NATO originally procured 18 E-3As. Seventeen remain in the fleet, with one having been written off after a crash. E-3s are also operated by the United Kingdom, France, and Saudi Arabia.

The E-3A Component was NATO’s first integrated, multinational flying unit. Seventeen NATO nations participate in the NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control Force (NAEW&CF), established in January 1980, with aircraft beginning operations from the Main Operating Base at Geilenkirchen in 1982. The aircraft also operate from forward bases in Trapani, Italy; Aktion, Greece; and Konya, Turkey, as well as a Forward Operating Location in Oerland, Norway.

Fifteen nations (Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey, and the United States) supply personnel to the three operational squadrons and one training squadron of the NATO E-3A Component (the UK flies its own E-3 system and Luxembourg does not provide personnel).

Thirteen more NATO AWACS will receive the upgrades as part of a $257 million modification program, beginning next year and expected to be completed in 2018. NATO originally procured 18 E-3As. Seventeen remain in the fleet, with one having been written off after a crash. E-3s are also operated by the United Kingdom, France, and Saudi Arabia.

“The AWACS program is a model for enduring transatlantic defense cooperation,” said Brian Moran, president, EU & NATO relations. “Boeing is honored to enhance this critical capability for the Alliance in close collaboration with industry partners from across Europe and the United States.”