US AWACS recapitalization for the 21st century

TomcatViP

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I think we could open a new thread for the future US awac platform. I haven't found one.

Introduction:
U.S. Air Force Gen. Mark Kelly, Air Combat Command leader:
If anybody asked me what’s my priority in the ISR portfolio, I have to say the AWACS. We frankly have to be wide-eyed. We have to acknowledge that unlike our closest treaty allies — the Australians and the [U.K. Royal Air Force]— we do not field a cutting-edge, air moving target indicator, or AMTI, capability like they do with their E-7A Wedgetail.



In my opinion, you’re not a true fifth-gen Air Force until your fifth-gen fighters have fifth-gen weapons and fifth-gen sensing, like an AMTI [aircraft] to go with them. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got the surveillance piece and the weapons piece to go with our platform piece.

[...]

To your point about Wedgetail [addressing to Defense News jounalist V. Insinna], I frankly don’t know exactly where our budgets are going to fall when it hits the reality of what we actually have [available]. But I can tell you unambiguously that it stays pretty much close to my No. 1 requirement as a force provider.

 
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Bhurki

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I think we could open a new thread for the future US awac platform. I haven't found one.
We probably wouldn't need one.
Considering the fact that USAF officials have iterated several times, i.e.

1) Ngad isn't a single airframe but a system of components for Counter air mission.
2) Air Force wants capabilities much more versatile than not just the E-3 but also AMTI provided by the likes of Wedgetail.
3) Tying unmanned shooters directly into the network rather than solely relying on a fighter to cue the targets for a UCAV.

I wouldn't be surprised if the next Awacs is part of the NGAD program, not being a single capital airframe, but sensing capabilities divided over different platforms.
 

Flyaway

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I think we could open a new thread for the future US awac platform. I haven't found one.
We probably wouldn't need one.
Considering the fact that USAF officials have iterated several times, i.e.

1) Ngad isn't a single airframe but a system of components for Counter air mission.
2) Air Force wants capabilities much more versatile than not just the E-3 but also AMTI provided by the likes of Wedgetail.
3) Tying unmanned shooters directly into the network rather than solely relying on a fighter to cue the targets for a UCAV.

I wouldn't be surprised if the next Awacs is part of the NGAD program, not being a single capital airframe, but sensing capabilities divided over different platforms.
That doesn’t follow unless you’re implying either than the U.K. & Australia are daft enough to thrown billions away on a new AWACS platform, or you’re suggesting that somehow their airforces are somehow lacking the need for such capabilities which is a nonsense. Both the U.K. & Australia will have distributed capabilities, Tempest is literally several platforms together, but still feel the need for a dedicated AWACS capability therefore why should the US be any different.
 

Bhurki

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I think we could open a new thread for the future US awac platform. I haven't found one.
We probably wouldn't need one.
Considering the fact that USAF officials have iterated several times, i.e.

1) Ngad isn't a single airframe but a system of components for Counter air mission.
2) Air Force wants capabilities much more versatile than not just the E-3 but also AMTI provided by the likes of Wedgetail.
3) Tying unmanned shooters directly into the network rather than solely relying on a fighter to cue the targets for a UCAV.

I wouldn't be surprised if the next Awacs is part of the NGAD program, not being a single capital airframe, but sensing capabilities divided over different platforms.
That doesn’t follow unless you’re implying either than the U.K. & Australia are daft enough to thrown billions away on a new AWACS platform, or you’re suggesting that somehow their airforces are somehow lacking the need for such capabilities which is a nonsense. Both the U.K. & Australia will have distributed capabilities, Tempest is literally several platforms together, but still feel the need for a dedicated AWACS capability therefore why should the US be any different.
Timeframes matter.

E-7 was fielded in the 2000s. Ofcourse the USAF designing its sensing platforms NOW will want to make them more capable and survivable.

Same with Tempest. Its timeframe trails NGAD by about 6-8 years.

On one hand you have a 2000s design Awacs and 2020s design Counter Air for E7 and Tempest.

On the other you have NGAD and Future US Awacs being designed and fielded in the same timeframe.
 

bring_it_on

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We probably wouldn't need one.
Considering the fact that USAF officials have iterated several times, i.e.

Watch the E-7 discussion heat up over the next year. When the PACAF and ACC bosses (it's not like they don't know what NGAD and ABMS is doing) are actively wanting something, folks in the big air force and the Congress are likely going to start taking notice.

In the background, it seems Boeing and Northrop Grumman have quietly kept working at making the platform more US centric by demonstrating its OMS compatibility. Northrop Grumman likely has radar upgrades in the pipeline as well and there were some talk earlier about adding P-8 style dual monitors to the workstations.

NGAD and the future programs will surely look at delivering AMTI capability in the future. This needs to be done in a way that is both affordable and survivable. However that doesn't mean that the E-7 won't be highly effective or not a viable solution to meet current and near term COCOM needs for a more capable, and more available platform. You have a bunch of E-3's that are going to be difficult to sustain. Whatever high end AMTI capability is developed by ABMS (which continues to have its funding slashed and is likely going to see a major overhaul) there will likely remain a need to recapitalize the E-3's with a low risk, affordable platform that can affordably meet the bottom 60-70% of the AMTI need (leaving more advanced solutions to focus on the harder threats) and do it quickly given the age of the E-3's.

If I were Boeing I would be planning on showcasing a common AMTI platform (based on the E-7) that shares commonality with the P-8, at the next AWS. If we think we need a modern high-availability AEW&C platform inside five years then something based on the proven E-7 is the only game in town. If on the other hand they think that the 707 based E-3's will be fine for 15-20 years (or longer) then that's great as long as someone can show how they will be kept at high readiness and be available in capacity when needed.

With NGAD, we'd be lucky to get just the fighter fielded by the early to mid 2030s. The entire family of systems that NGAD and ABMS is working will likely take a lot longer to fully replace the entire AMTI capability currently provided by the E-3. We may go into the 2040s to get that next gen. advanced space based AMTI that everyone seems to be interested in.

PACAF boss Gen. Kenneth S. Wilsbach told reporters during the Air Force Association’s virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium he is advocating for the Air Force to quickly procure the E-7 Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft, the Boeing 737-based aircraft already in use by Australia and South Korea to replace aging E-3 Sentrys that have struggled to get in the air.

“The fact is, we actually need something relatively quick because of the reliability of the E-3,” Wilsbach said. “It gets harder and harder to get airborne.”

The Air Force’s E-3 AWACS is based on the older Boeing 707. There have been recent upgrades, and the fleet is expected to fly into the 2030s, though Wilsbach said “it’s challenged at the moment because of how old it is.”

 
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Bhurki

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If on the other hand they think that the 707 based E-3's will be fine for 15-20 years (or longer) then that's great as long as someone can show how they will be kept at high readiness and be available in capacity when needed.
This has already been shot down by the PACAF chief, “It gets harder and harder to get airborne.”

However that doesn't mean that the E-7 won't be highly effective or not a viable solution to meet current and near term COCOM needs for a more capable, and more available platform.
If we think we need a modern high-availability AEW&C platform inside five years then something based on the proven E-7 is the only game in town.
This, again, depends on the cost/capability/timeframe matrix one is trying to optimize.
E-7 allows them enhanced capability now, however, might need additional upgrades to keep up with whatever is fielded from 2030 onwards.
On the other hand, they could stretch E-3 with upgrades till about 2030, and then replace it with a successor that has all the requirements for supporting NGAD in place at arrival, while also incorporating any additional advantages that R&D over this timeframe allows.
 

bring_it_on

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This has already been shot down by the PACAF chief, “It gets harder and harder to get airborne.”

Right, and now the ACC boss has also shown a keen interest in wanting the E-7
E-7 allows them enhanced capability now, however, might need additional upgrades to keep up with whatever is fielded from 2030 onwards.

You would need to constantly upgrade whatever it is you field whether that is an E-7 in 2025, or an E-X in 2035. This is why having an Open Mission System compliant AEW&C and being able to add more computing, more connectivity, and more capability relatively quickly and affordably is important.

These are precisely the sort of things that Boeing and Northrop Grumman seemed to have invested their own money on recently -


In collaboration with Northrop Grumman, Boeing recently conducted two flight tests on a test bed aircraft, once again marrying the OMS-compliant battle management command and control (BMC2) system to Northrop Grumman’s advanced, wide-band active electronically scanned array (AESA). This successful airborne test of OMS architecture is a key step in validating the approach and moving the product to fielding.

“From an engineering standpoint, executing this OMS test in a relevant environment, represents a major step up in demonstrated readiness,” said Rick Greenwell, Boeing chief engineer, Aircraft Modernization and Modification. “As a company, we are committed to OMS and have demonstrated OMS on defense products such as the T-7A Red Hawk and F-15EX. AEW&C now joins that prestigious Boeing product list. It is a major accomplishment to take the OMS architecture from lab and ground testing to the air, and connecting it to an operating sensor in an environment similar to flying an operational mission. Open architecture is a very efficient way of doing software engineering and bringing capabilities across platforms.”

Both flight tests saw the AEW&C mission computing, processing and Human-Machine Interface (HMI) hardware mounted on the test aircraft and connected to the Northrop Grumman sensor. Via the HMI a Boeing operator commanded the sensor to conduct specific activities and then received the sensor data for processing and display.

Last month, Boeing and Northrop Grumman conducted a ground test scenario in which the AESA was commanded by Boeing’s open mission computing to focus on specific areas of interest for potential “threats.”

On the other hand, they could stretch E-3 with upgrades till about 2030, and then replace it with a successor that has all the requirements for supporting NGAD

Future AMTI may not even be platform based. Or an airliner based. What if they decide to include space based AMTI capability? You aren't going to deliver that at scale or with enough volume for it to begin replacing E-3 or E-7's 1 for 1. That's a longer term solution not a substitute for the near to mid term needs.

I am not sure what the platform upgrades will be that convert the E-3 from a high maintenance asset to a low maintenance asset. While you can perhaps look to upgrade the electronics, radars and communications with newer systems that have higher reliability (we've already done some of that), short of re-hosting the existing sensor and C2 systems on a new airframe, you aren't really going to make those 707's more reliable to a point where they all of a sudden become easy to keep and deploy at a high ops tempo.

On the other hand, if they divest 12-15 E-3's and buy a similar number (would need less) of E-7's (likely to cost $6-8 Billion even if hosted on a new platform) you can possibly get more out of those and boost the E-3 availability (remaining fleet) through the 2030s. Even if they ask for a newer 737 it is still going to be a fairly affordable way to buy a dozen or so modern AEW&C's to fill the gap between now and the future AMTI capability (whatever that looks like).
 
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bring_it_on

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On the topic of AEW&C, and other OMS compliant sensor platforms, where does the recently flown Terracotta radar fit in this picture?

Happy to move this into a new US AWACS recapitalization thread if Tomcat has one but given the recent open talk (while the FY-23 budget is being prepared) about the E-7, what platform options would the USAF have given the parent 737 is no longer in production? A newer 737? P8 commonality, or do they look to mount it on a 767?

 

sferrin

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On the topic of AEW&C, and other OMS compliant sensor platforms, where does the recently flown Terracotta radar fit in this picture?

Happy to move this into a new US AWACS recapitalization thread if Tomcat has one but given the recent open talk (while the FY-23 budget is being prepared) about the E-7, what platform options would the USAF have given the parent 737 is no longer in production? A newer 737? P8 commonality, or do they look to mount it on a 767?

Anything 737 or 767 based should not even be on the table. They're both aging/obsolete airframes.
 

Flyaway

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On the topic of AEW&C, and other OMS compliant sensor platforms, where does the recently flown Terracotta radar fit in this picture?

Happy to move this into a new US AWACS recapitalization thread if Tomcat has one but given the recent open talk (while the FY-23 budget is being prepared) about the E-7, what platform options would the USAF have given the parent 737 is no longer in production? A newer 737? P8 commonality, or do they look to mount it on a 767?

Anything 737 or 767 based should not even be on the table. They're both aging/obsolete airframes.
Odd statement considering the huge numbers of 737s in global service, and I wasn’t aware of Boeing declaring the type to be at an end manufacturing wise. It’s precisely why these like the P-8 & E-7 are based on it.
 

TomcatViP

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Copy of introduction post here in chronological order.

U.S. Air Force Gen. Mark Kelly, Air Combat Command leader:
If anybody asked me what’s my priority in the ISR portfolio, I have to say the AWACS. We frankly have to be wide-eyed. We have to acknowledge that unlike our closest treaty allies — the Australians and the [U.K. Royal Air Force]— we do not field a cutting-edge, air moving target indicator, or AMTI, capability like they do with their E-7A Wedgetail.

In my opinion, you’re not a true fifth-gen Air Force until your fifth-gen fighters have fifth-gen weapons and fifth-gen sensing, like an AMTI [aircraft] to go with them. We’ve got to make sure we’ve got the surveillance piece and the weapons piece to go with our platform piece.
[...]
To your point about Wedgetail [addressing to Defense News jounalist V. Insinna], I frankly don’t know exactly where our budgets are going to fall when it hits the reality of what we actually have [available]. But I can tell you unambiguously that it stays pretty much close to my No. 1 requirement as a force provider.

 
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bring_it_on

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Bringing a post in the NGAD thread here -

On the topic of AEW&C, and other OMS compliant sensor platforms, where does the recently flown Terracotta radar fit in this picture?

Happy to move this into a new US AWACS recapitalization thread if Tomcat has one but given the recent open talk (while the FY-23 budget is being prepared) about the E-7, what platform options would the USAF have given the parent 737 is no longer in production? A newer 737? P8 commonality, or do they look to mount it on a 767?

 

bring_it_on

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On the topic of AEW&C, and other OMS compliant sensor platforms, where does the recently flown Terracotta radar fit in this picture?

Happy to move this into a new US AWACS recapitalization thread if Tomcat has one but given the recent open talk (while the FY-23 budget is being prepared) about the E-7, what platform options would the USAF have given the parent 737 is no longer in production? A newer 737? P8 commonality, or do they look to mount it on a 767?

Anything 737 or 767 based should not even be on the table. They're both aging/obsolete airframes.
Odd statement considering the huge numbers of 737s in global service, and I wasn’t aware of Boeing declaring the type to be at an end manufacturing wise. It’s precisely why these like the P-8 & E-7 are based on it.

My statement about adding a new 737 model was in reference to the 737 NG no longer being in production. I believe the RAF had to buy 2 used aircraft for conversion because production on the type was stopped in 2019. So either the USAF considers used aircraft, or looks to migrate the system over to a newer 737 type perhaps the militarized P-8.

The new 737 variant would be fine here given the PACAF and perhaps a few other operators would want something fast. With Northrop and Boeing spending their own money on flying new radars, processors and demonstrations there is probably quite a bit going on in the background and likely for longer than just a few months during which some of these high profile statements have been made.
 

TomcatViP

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IMOHO, the P-8, as it is today, should be the right base to build an intermediate capability without much delay.
The P-8 has re-inforced structure and skins and is now the only real combat aircraft in term of maneuverability and potential modifications of any of the converted airliners (but the 767 that is much larger).
The wb could also be very useful in the context of air to air defense or the deployment of effectors (think jammer or secure com relays).
 

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How does the P-8 compare to the KC-46 in terms of range/endurance? Certainly we wouldn't want to take a step back from the E-3 in those charateristics.
 

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How does the P-8 compare to the KC-46 in terms of range/endurance? Certainly we wouldn't want to take a step back from the E-3 in those charateristics. thoughts too.
Had similar thoughts too.

Though a lack of range could be mitigated by an NGAD spin-off penetrating drone. But would a P-8 have enough room for consoles and computers to control the drones, versus a wide body fuselage?
 

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How does the P-8 compare to the KC-46 in terms of range/endurance? Certainly we wouldn't want to take a step back from the E-3 in those charateristics.
P-8's not in the same range class as the tanker, but Wedgetail is much closer. If you removed everything packed into P-8's lower fuselage to support ASW/ASuW and put in more fuel tanks, you could make it's range jump quite a bit. And that's before considering a re-wing or something like that.
 

bring_it_on

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There's also IFR but having a larger platform like the 767 does open up additional options in terms of all the JADC2 / ABMS pods, gateways etc they want to mount on these things. I guess it all depends on how much they want to pay for it. If this is an interim AMTI solution then budgets likely will be tight.
 

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AWACS in traditional meaning as big plane with powerful radar may not actually have much of a future. The combination of stealth aircraft & long-range air-to-air missiles made them too vulnerable. Both Russia and China have AAM's that could be launched from the very edge of AWACS detection radius and home on its own radar. Combined with stealth fighters... this made flying radars and command centers just too vulnerable. Something smaller & cheaper, easier to replace might be more practical.
 

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AWACS in traditional meaning as big plane with powerful radar may not actually have much of a future. The combination of stealth aircraft & long-range air-to-air missiles made them too vulnerable. Both Russia and China have AAM's that could be launched from the very edge of AWACS detection radius and home on its own radar. Combined with stealth fighters... this made flying radars and command centers just too vulnerable. Something smaller & cheaper, easier to replace might be more practical.

That does not apply to 100% of the cases. There will still be considerable amount of combat happening on this side of the highest end fight with real needs to battle manage, have AMTI, and C2. I agree though that for the toughest 20-30% of the cases a longer term distributed (including in space) AMTI solution is needed, but you can't wait for the couple of decades that it will take to field that while the existing E-3 capability atrophies. This is a very *real* need from the combatant commanders and folks who will be fighting the air-wars over the Pacific, which is huge and there won't be mythical long range weapon or Chinese stealth fighters in every nook and corner for quite a while . Both INDO-PACOM and CENTCOM can do with a more available, versatile, and affordable platform and recapitalize a portion of the E-3 fleet.
 

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What if the replacement is swarm of stealth drones with some form SLAR radar, Sat uplink and Link16? For me next E3 sounds obsolete same way as single big carrier concept. Shooting down E3 means immediate lost of air superiority over 600 km wide area for next 3-4 hours. In the time of hypersonic weapons this mean the battle and maybe war is lost. Swarm of drones - you can just went dark on one being attacked and activate or reposition next one and keep 5-10 in the air same time. This also at least partially make stealth platform more vulnerable as they could be illuminated from areas they didn’t expect.
 

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and there won't be mythical long range weapon or Chinese stealth fighters in every nook and corner for quite a while .
Erm... destruction of USAF/USN AWACS aircraft is basically the main role that would be assigned to a small park of Chinese stealth fighters in case of US-Chinese conflict. Simply because such actions would impair the US aviation capabilities the most, and therefore would be the most efficient ones.
 

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mythical long range weapon
Russian R-37 (RVV-BD) missile, currently in service, have 300-km max range. Nothing "mythical" here. While export version is limited to 200 km, it's still pretty enough to cause concerns about AWACS planes survival against any opponent who could allow itself to purchase modern export weaponry.
 

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and there won't be mythical long range weapon or Chinese stealth fighters in every nook and corner for quite a while .
Erm... destruction of USAF/USN AWACS aircraft is basically the main role that would be assigned to a small park of Chinese stealth fighters in case of US-Chinese conflict. Simply because such actions would impair the US aviation capabilities the most, and therefore would be the most efficient ones.

Those platforms cannot be at all the paces all the time. The Pacific is vast and the need for airpower is extensive ranging from very high end operations involving deep and penetrating aircraft, to lower intensity operations where you need AMTI capability, and airborne ATC to coordinate joint operations. The needs are very real and this is why you see those who will actually be employing air-power in theaters like the Pacific or elsewhere (CENTCOM) are asking for it. They will literally fly the E-3's till they can't fly anymore. Because it is an in indispensable capability in the near-medium term.

Russian R-37 (RVV-BD) missile, currently in service, have 300-km max range.

That's awesome. So no I need a radar that is capable of detecting the shooter of that platform at ranges beyond 300-km and I need to have OCA/DCA capacity to deal with the limited number of platforms that RuAF may field in a theater. Three are several missions here the threat from a Russian MiG-31 with a 300 km missile might not apply. Like a defensive operations to include DCA, and CMD. Plenty of things that an AWACS does that doesn't place it smack in the middile of the highest end penetrating AMTI needs. The USAF has programs developing those things. That doesn't mean there aren't other needs that will go unmet unless the E-3 capablity is recapitalized.

PACAF boss Gen. Kenneth S. Wilsbach told reporters during the Air Force Association’s virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium he is advocating for the Air Force to quickly procure the E-7 Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft, the Boeing 737-based aircraft already in use by Australia and South Korea to replace aging E-3 Sentrys that have struggled to get in the air.

“The fact is, we actually need something relatively quick because of the reliability of the E-3,” Wilsbach said. “It gets harder and harder to get airborne.”

The Air Force’s E-3 AWACS is based on the older Boeing 707. There have been recent upgrades, and the fleet is expected to fly into the 2030s, though Wilsbach said “it’s challenged at the moment because of how old it is.”

Within the Pacific, PACAF will be tasked with fighting in anti-access, area-denial areas set up by adversaries, which would require both takedowns of surface-to-air missiles and taking away an enemy’s air-to-air capability. The modernized E-7 would help with domain awareness, and then PACAF would need an advanced fighter to complete the missions.

To that end, Wilsbach said he is advocating for the Air Force’s future Next Generation Air Dominance platform and its advanced weapons “so that we can stay relevant as our adversaries continue to advance.”

A dozen or so E-7's aren't going to break the bank. But they will provide a significant near term capacity and also allow the improvement of readiness rates of the remaining E-3 fleet. No one is advocating developing a clean sheet E-3 replacement. Both ACC and PACAF bosses actually want a relatively quickly delivered new platform. Both would be aware of the Chinese and Russian threats as well as their own near - mid term needs.

Putting all the eggs in a penetrating AMTI basket may leave them vulnerable in the short-medium term as most of these programs tend to get delayed given the complexity. A newer, more modern platform as an interim fix, or even taking the E-3 sensors and putting them on a ne widebody, seems like a cost effective hedge as those more cutting edge future technologies are developed and fielded over the next 15-20 years.

Both the PACAF and ACC boss are privy to the highest level of classifications on programs like ABMS and JADC2. The former looks like it is heading for a major overhaul and will unlikely delivery anything that begins to even remotely replace full fledged E-3 missions till late 30s at the earliest. If you expect a 2040 fight then sure, let the E-3's run out their time and then wait till a complete overhaul occurs (this requires a technical solution to be developed, fielded and doctrinal shift on how to employ it). But if you are looking at 2030, and want something that can provide an improvement in qualitative and quantitative capabilities then you will absolutely advocate for a hedge. This should have happened a decade ago in an ideal world but like lots of these things (JATM, F-35 ramp up etc) these things have slipped because of investments elsewhere (low end conflict etc).
 
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Dilandu

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Those platforms cannot be at all the paces all the time.
They don't need to be. AWACS which is a thousand or two kilometers away from area of conflict is, frankly, not a target of major importance) AWACS near the area of the conflict - the different matter...

That's awesome. So no I need a radar that is capable of detecting the shooter of that platform at ranges beyond 300-km and I need to have OCA/DCA capacity to deal with the limited number of platforms that RuAF may field in a theater. Three are several missions here the threat from a Russian MiG-31 with a 300 km missile might not apply.
Try for Su-57 with 300-km missile. The plane, that you most likely would not detect on the 300 km range. Stealth technology is not as novelty as it was before...
 

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AWACS which is a thousand or two kilometers away from area of conflict is, frankly, not a target of major importance) AWACS near the area of the conflict - the different matter...

Which is what I have been saying. AWACS isn't just there to serve as a penetrating AMTI provider. It serves many other roles which all need to be met and are going to be increasingly difficult to do with ageing E-3's. Its a capability shortfall and a readiness shortfall at a time when ops tempo in the INDO-PACOM and possibly elsewhere is expected to increase in the next decade.
Try for Su-57 with 300-km missile. The plane, that you most likely would not detect on the 300 km range. Stealth technology is not as novelty as it was before...

How many operational Su-57s currently exist?
 

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My logic gets to a fleet of E-7 working on the edge of the battlespace, and a stealthed system working in the battlespace - stealthed when not transmitting!

Also arent we really looking for a 'snapshot' device, which may be disposable/destroyed after its single combat use.....teeny weeny emp anyone?

Frankly drones/balloons/unmanned airships all appeal. Fibre optic tether to a remote satcom? Submarine launched?

You need to get this thing in without detection, and it needs to be replaceable, and tradeable within the battle.
 

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How many operational Su-57s currently exist?
One. I bet it will stay the same until the end of this year. And to the end of next. Most probably will be the same well into 2025. And definitely won't change closer to end of this decade.
 

bring_it_on

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How many operational Su-57s currently exist?
One. I bet it will stay the same until the end of this year. And to the end of next. Most probably will be the same well into 2025. And definitely won't change closer to end of this decade.

Let's see some rough estimates and probabilities on the combat coded Su-57 strength in 2022, 2025, and 2030? 100 by 2030? 200? 300? What's the number likely to be? Whatever it is, isn't enough (it's not going to be in the thousands) for it to be at all the places all the time. Which is exactly my point - that an AWACS isn't just for the very high end fight and that there are several roles that the E-3's will fulfill outside supporting a potential combat operation against a squadron or two of Su-57's.

For the very high end fight, the USAF has said and continues to say that they need to invest in AMTI that is more distributed, degrades gracefully and eliminates single points of failure. But that doesn't mean there aren't other mission needs that will be at major risk of not being met over the next 10-20 years as the E-3's become increasingly difficult to keep flying and sink to abysmal availability rates (they already don't meet the readiness targets).
 
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bring_it_on

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My logic gets to a fleet of E-7 working on the edge of the battlespace, and a stealthed system working in the battlespace - stealthed when not transmitting!
This is very close to what is likely to happen. There will be no rip the band aid solution that allows you to promptly field a highly survivable AMTI capability against the highest end opponents. Whatever you field will be high end, expensive (or lower end attritable solutions will take time to develop and validate) and such limited in quantity (at least initially). As it begins to enter service, you will task the legacy AMTI systems further back and away from the highest threat and keep them for other roles which they may do better or more affordably (like defensive operations and C2 from distance). It will be a gradual transition and existing E-3's, and a possible E-7's will likely play a part in this network in the short to medium term. This is why they are looking at adding OMS standards and upgrading to a multi-function/mission sensor on the AEW&C platform which is what Boeing and Northrop Grumman are investing their own money in when they can keep pushing the legacy sensor which is now proven with multiple operators.

If the USAF decides to buy a E-7 it will be a fleet recapitalization which looks to migrate existing mission loads on a more available, reliable, and potentially higher performance (OMS/multi-mission) platform. You aren't looking at it to answer all your replacement needs. Its a practical interim solution that relieves near to medium term readiness challenges at a time when you expect your E-3's to be more used given the changing dynamics in the Pacific and elsewhere. The alternative isn't some magical distributed AMTI capability that will appear in a matter of a few years. The alternative is likely to be unmet needs for AMTI that will severely handicap the force and reduce overall capability in the near term.

The current estimates of the E-3 fleet being fine till mid 2030's may not hold true if their utilization and demands get severely increased within that timeframe. They might not even make it to 2030 in such a case. The window to begin fielding something in the second half of this decade so you can have a fleet of 10-12 E-7's (or whatever else they think can relieve some of the pressure) by 2030-2032 timeframe is rather small. You basically have to get something in the budgets in FY-23 and need to order aircraft by FY-25.

The Air Force currently maintains an inventory of 31 E-3s, which were produced between 1971 and 1984. The E-3 is expected to fly until 2035, but the task of maintaining the aircraft is becoming harder as parts become obsolete and more difficult to source.
Because of “sustainment challenges related to supply of needed parts and maintenance of the aging aircraft,” the Air Force’s E-3 fleet did not meet its availability goals in fiscal years 2011 through 2019, the Government Accountability Office stated in a 2020 report.

The U.S. Air Force has not rolled out a plan for replacing the E-3, but rumors have swirled over recent years about the service’s interest in adding the Wedgetail to its budget if enough money can be found. However, there currently is no Air Force program of record for the E-7 Wedgetail. “As I’m talking to our staff here, and we look at the E-3 and the mission-capable rates for the E-3 and what we’re spending on it today, we’re going to have to do something. I don’t know what that ‘something’ is yet,” he said. “We’ve got to really look at what the options are, and the Wedgetail is one of those. But it may not be the only option.”
 
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There's a lot of posts about Wedgetail as a radar platform, and about AEW in general, plus the MTI mission, but that's not the sole role of the E-3. AWACS, Airborne Warning _And Control System_, or to express it more specifically, battle management. Whatever the arguments about whether an E-3 replacement can survive close-in, the battle management mission that was a fundamental of the E-3 (in the air) and the E-8 (on the ground) persists. Equally we aren't ready to switch to weapons picking their targets for themselves, so simply plugging a UAV into the network doesn't obviate the need for plugging someone into the same network to control it.

The change we've seen since the E-3 and E-8 were designed is the ability to decouple the battle-management staff from being aboard the radar platform. That doesn't really show in the E-7, but there are increasing numbers of AEW and GMTI systems based on smaller biz jets and larger drones - cf Eitam, Sentinel, RQ-4D Phoenix and MQ-4C Triton. But even with that ability, there's still the need to deploy that battle-management team. You can run a drone over Afghanistan from a bunker in the US, but for more complex planning you probably want people in theatre and running on the same day-night cycle as the boots on the ground. So the ability to decouple sensor and battle management staff exists, but might not be the universal solution. You might well want a mix of platforms. Some unmanned, some minimally, possibly optionally, manned, and some with the traditional full battle staff. And equally you'll need some form of deployable platform to put a staff in if they aren't on the AEW/GMTI platform.

WRT to long range missiles, HAVCAP is hardly new, it just pushes the CAP line further out.

E-7 as an outdated concept? Meh, there's an app for that. Software can be updated, radar hardware can have new technology back-ends and front-ends plugged in as technology advances. The E-7 design being based on the 737 isn't a significant issue. The reason for moving 737 production on from 737 NG to 737 MAX wasn't an inability to support continued NG production, it was the ability of next gen engine technology to make the NG commercially unviable. There are a LOT of 737 NGs out there (about 7200), and that means a robust supply chain for decades to come. At the current production rate Boeing has about 12 years of MAX orders (31 a month planned, orders c4000). Even a mooted 42 a month from late '22 is almost a decade's worth, and that's without any new orders. And KC-46/767 demonstrates the ability to keep a zombie civilian production line lurching along long after the civilian line alone should be unviable.

There might be a case for migrating the E-7 mission onto a P-8 variant, for logistics commonality, but Boeing's performance on KC-46 integration was pretty shockingly bad, so there could be an equally strong driver to leave well alone.

This would all be a lot simpler if they hadn't cancelled E-10!
 

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Reminds me of Red Storm Rising, and the Soviets all-out effort to try and kill the AWACS over the Rhine, even at an horrible cost and butchering of dozens of MiGs. Spoiler: they succeed, even partially.
 

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Wedgetails to complete Sentries ... should we call this a "bridge AWACS " ? At least Boeing got the bridge, this time...
Synergies with P-8 may be interesting. Or some kind of hybrid airframe... Wedgeidon ?
 

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The UK are getting the upgraded mission consoles on their E-7 AEW&C which are pretty much identical to the P-8. I believe the RAAF have upgrading to that standard as part of their future modernization roadmap as well. So far, the Terracotta remains an internal R&D sensor but difficult to see the USAF not considering it given that they've started flying scaled hardware.
 

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Not sure if this the right place but which of the current production airliners would make a suitable platform?
 

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