US AWACS recapitalization for the 21st century

icyplanetnhc (Steve)

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Newly confirmed U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has called for doubling down on his predecessor’s wide-ranging modernization strategy to prepare for conflict with a rising Chinese military, but he brings a new style that emphasizes making disciplined progress over open-ended innovation plans.

In his first appearance at the Air Force Association’s annual Air, Space & Cyber Conference, the career Army officer, industry executive and Defense Department bureaucrat called for a more conventional approach to fielding the innovative technologies in the modernization portfolio, including a shift away from prioritizing Silicon Valley startups in lieu of traditional defense contractors and federal laboratories (AW&ST Sept. 13-26, p. 16).

An early target of the Air Force’s new approach to innovation is the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) program, a defining initiative of the era preceding Kendall’s appointment.

The Air Force first introduced the ABMS concept to Congress in 2017 as a potential replacement for the Boeing E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System, which includes an airborne moving target indication radar and battle management suite.

Noting that such large, slow and radiating platforms like the Boeing 707-based E-3 are increasingly vulnerable to a new class of long-range, anti-radiation missiles, Air Force officials—led by Will Roper, then-assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics—proposed to replace the fleet with a distributed aerial network of sensors and automated battle management nodes.


But the concept quickly expanded. By 2018, Air Force leaders decided to shift the ABMS into the chosen successor for the Northrop Grumman E-8C Joint Stars (J-Stars), following the cancellation of the $6 billion J-Stars recapitalization program. Thus, the distributed ABMS network would replace the battle management capabilities of the E-8C. It was not immediately clear then how the Air Force would replace the E-8C’s wide-area surveillance radar with ground moving target indication (GMTI). But the U.S. Space Force partially declassified a new program this year that aims to field GMTI radars in orbit.

Under Roper’s guidance, the ABMS concept continued to expand. Instead of simply replacing the battle management functions of the E-3C or E-8C fleets, the Air Force repositioned ABMS as a sweeping architecture encompassing a new family of industry-built, government-owned airborne technologies, including radars, radios, data links, attritable unmanned aircraft systems, data processing systems and a combat cloud.

Roper further launched a series of open-ended “on-ramp” demonstrations in which dozens of new technologies and software-based applications could be assembled and tested quickly in real-world conditions. But the on-ramp events were consistently criticized by congressional oversight committees, which objected to the lack of a defined plan to usher the most promising technologies from the demonstrations into traditional programs of record.

As the Air Force’s top new civilian leader, Kendall appears to agree with the decision of the congressional committees. ABMS needs to be “focused on achieving and fielding specific measurable improvements in operational outcomes,” he says.

Even before Kendall’s Senate swearing-in ceremony in August, the Air Force was shifting the ABMS program yet again. In late January, one of Roper’s last acts in office was delivering a strategy to field the ABMS Capability Release (CR) 1. Instead of a broad, open-ended architecture, CR 1 aims to field a specific technology on the Boeing KC-46A tanker fleet. The original plan called for developing a new airborne networking system in spiral 1, a podded container in spiral 2 and a processing system in spiral 3 that would be capable of developing a fused, common operational picture from a multitude of sensor inputs collected by the data link.

The Air Force, however, has paused work on moving CR 1 into the acquisition system until Kendall completes a review of the new architecture.

Meanwhile, the Air Force has abandoned any trace of the original plan to replace the aging E-3 fleet with a distributed system. Although the Air Force completed what it had described as a “revolutionary” Block 40/45 upgrade program in 2020 for the E-3 mission computers and displays, the 31-aircraft fleet still faces a worsening reliability crisis.

As a result, Air Force leaders are pushing to launch an urgent program to acquire a new fleet of Boeing 737--derived E-7 airborne early warning and control aircraft. The urgency is partly driven by a possible production shutdown on Boeing’s 737 Next-Generation series assembly line in 2025, following the last delivery of the company’s P-8A maritime patrol aircraft. An E-7 procurement order by the Air Force in fiscal 2023 likely would help Boeing avoid a production pause or shutdown.


The Royal Australian Air Force selected Boeing in 1999 to design the E-7 under Project Wedgetail. Consequently, an E-7 procurement would represent a rare move by the Air Force to acquire a sophisticated weapon system designed to a foreign performance specification. But Gen. Mark Kelly, head of Air Combat Command, dismissed concerns about the scope of any changes that could be demanded by U.S. operators. Kelly noted that the E-7 is based on the Northrop Grumman Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array, a “top-hat” array that provides instantaneous, 360-deg. coverage, and Boeing--designed mission systems. Kelly is confident that the E-7 technology, a product of U.S.-based contractors, meets the Air Force’s standards.

A U.S.-operated alternative to the E-7 exists in the Navy’s Northrop E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, which features a Lockheed Martin APY-9 array. But Kelly said the carrier-based E-2D is not a suitable replacement option for the E-3. The range provided by the E-2D radar may be adequate for the carrier battle group’s requirements, but it falls short of the standard required by the Air Force, Kelly said.

The acquisition of a new aircraft fleet for Airborne Moving Target Indication (AMTI) comes as the Air Force continues to evaluate the composition of its future fighter fleet. For two decades, the Lockheed F-35A served as the standalone replacement for all F-16s and A-10s, but that is no longer assumed. As an ongoing Fighter Roadmap study continues, the Air Force has already established that a certain number of F-16s and A-10s will remain in the fleet through the 2030s—even as Boeing F-15EXs replace aging F-15Cs and the Next-Generation Air Dominance program replaces the Lockheed F-22. With F-16s and A-10s assuming a long-term role in the Air Force fleet, the study will raise pressure on the service to adjust the 1,763-aircraft program of record for the F-35A downward.

However, a gap still exists in the fighter force structure for replacing about 600 F-16 Block 40/42/50/52 aircraft as they reach flight-hour limits within or beyond the 2030s. The so-called MR-X, a concept for a clean-sheet, low-end fighter design, is a candidate for replacing those F-16s, Kelly said. Other options may include new Lockheed F-16Vs or a light fighter version of the Boeing T-7A trainer.

“MR-X is basically an acknowledgment of [the fact that] we need affordable capacity,” Kelly said. The roughly 600 F-16s are “going to be our affordable capacity for years to come,” he continued. “Eventually though, like anything that’s metal, [if] you bend it enough times you [will] have to replace it. And that’s where the MR-X discussion and options start to come into play.”

In the near term, the Air Force is waiting for the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) to finalize the next major upgrade for the aircraft. The Lockheed fighter is due to receive the Technical Refresh-3 upgrade in fiscal 2023, which enables a series of sensor and electronic warfare upgrades that follow through to fiscal 2027. Now, the JPO is considering a major propulsion system upgrade to provide additional cooling and thermal management to cope with the aircraft’s more powerful electronics. Options include a major engine enhancement package for the Pratt & Whitney F135 or replacing the propulsion system with the Adaptive Engine Technology Program (AETP), which has funded the development of the GE Aviation AX100 and Pratt AX101.

Top Air Force officials had previously voiced concerns about the costs of an AETP program, but Kendall appears to be open to the idea. “The fuel savings and the thrust increase that we could get out of that have a lot of value,” he said.

The Air Force is in discussions with the Navy to apply the same engine to the F-35C fleet, Kendall added.

“I’m hoping we’ll be able to go forward together,” he said. “If we have to, we’ll look hard at the affordability of moving forward just as an Air Force program. Those advantages are substantial, and I’d like to be able to pursue it, if it’s affordable.”
 

_Del_

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Not sure if this the right place but which of the current production airliners would make a suitable platform?
I think the next gen is going to be more about ABMS, and less about direct sensors, so my personal preference is for a more distributed network with smaller platforms like the large bizjets.
If the assumption is a preference or a perceived need for more SWAP-C for sensors and operators, then I don't see why a Wedgetail wouldn't be the choice: commonality with RAF, RAAF, and SK, thousands in the commercial fleet to leverage those supply lines.
 

bring_it_on

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

If possible, commonality with the P-8 would probably be a smart thing to do, both in terms of US acquisition and trying to market it to current and future P-8 users.
 

uk 75

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The 737 airframe is pretty small. Wouldn't a 777 or 787 offer more space for upgrades.
 

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Don't think that there is a whole lot of benefit in getting to a larger frame (which would be the 767 in this case since its been militarized now). The sensor works on the 737, and the new sensor being designed by Northrop is being made to be used on the same platform. It seems to have enough stations to satisfy the AMTI needs of the RAAF and RAF. The 737 is pretty cost effective and there are so many of them that this will remain a low cost sustainment for years/decades to come. If they were designing something clean sheet, and had a different sensor trade then that's a different case, but here they are looking at buying something relatively quickly.
 

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If they were designing something clean sheet, and had a different sensor trade then that's a different case, but here they are looking at buying something relatively quickly.
I'd imagine a fixed contract with GaN and inflight refueling among other changes should be pretty doable.
 

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Northrop is testing a new sensor already.
 

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Not sure if this the right place but which of the current production airliners would make a suitable platform?
The 737 is the last I would choose, but for P-8 already being there. Similarly for 767, bar KC-46. Not because they're bad aircraft, but because they're reworked versions of reworked versions of aircraft that originated back when the electronic systems were something you crammed in afterwards, and not something you built the airframe around. Being multiply reworked from aircraft that didn't have the capacity to be updated with modern electronics pretty much guarantees a sub-optimal solution. The whole question wouldn't be an issue if they'd stuck with the E-10 15 years back, but that milk's long since spilt.

A321, particularly A321XLR, is going to be a better option that A320, A319 or A220 because it's larger and longer ranged, so more growth space/loiter time, but potential synergy with a tanker/transport design is probably worth considering, and A321 is still a narrowbody. If they'd actually built the ground surveillance A320 NATO AGS was supposed to get alongside the RQ-4s then there would be a significantly stronger case for an A32x AEW variant.

A330 is technically in its twilight years of civilian production, but A330 NEO is a thing, as is A330MRTT/KC-30, so it's better placed than 767/KC-46, particularly given it's been FBW since day 1.

If you were starting with a clean sheet, I'd say A350 or 787, both modern widebody designs that have been in production long enough to work out the gremlins (mostly, Boeing seems to have developed a real talent for creating problems in an aircraft that didn't have them the last time people looked). And both with a range of max take-off weights and fuselage lengths to let you tune capacity and range to just what you want.

777 and 777X are larger than is optimal for the non-tanker/transport roles, and even the tanker role is a bit niche.

And of course the answer varies with whether you're talking in general, or for the USAF in particular, because if it's USAF then all the Airbus designs go out the window. And if you throw MPA into the mix, not just AEW/JSTARS then advantage shifts to the narrowbodies and particularly the 737.
 

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Whatever happened to the space based radar system from the Ray-gun administration? I think AWACS in the traditional sense for the usaf is from a by gone era especially with swarms of f35s networked. The only reason we still have AWACS is because we still mostly fly 15s and 16s for which the current AWACS was bought to support..... The aesa in the 22 and 35 is vastly superior the radars in fighters when AWACS was introduced and doesn't leave much for a flight of modern fighters to be surprised by. Not to mention AWACS are flying missile absobers in a modern battle. Probably there is a case for them in cruise missile defense but beyond that... Meh, time to move on.

The usn is another story.
 
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bring_it_on

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The USAF plans to retain 500-600 F-16's, and will be operating more than 300 F-15's through the 2030's, and 2040's (F-15). Meanwhile, about 125 combat coded F-22's exist which means no more than 75 will be available at any given time given how poor the mission capability rates are for that platform. Only the F-35's will be available in quantity (about 700 combat coded in the USAF by 2030). E-7's will be a very valuable force multiplier for the upgraded 4th gen fleet, and will be a value add to the F-35 and F-22 fleet. This is a bridge solution before something more survivable is fielded in the second half of the 2030's or perhaps later. Much like the F-15C retirement, the AF was clearly too optimistic when it thought that the E-3's can make it through the 2030s. But given the state of that platform, the age of its sensor, its availability (it has failed to meet targets for several of the last years) they aren't going to squeeze out another decade to 15 years out of that platform.
 
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Opportunistic Minnow

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This is a bridge solution before something more survivable is fielded

I'm curious as to what you mean by survivable here? The idea of a LO or manoeuvrable AWACS is a little amusing. A new AWACS with the radar signature of a small songbird... until it radiates. Point? Force multiplier types (tankers, AWACS, ELINT etc.) will follow the form of civilian airliners well past the 2030s IMO. The numbers necessary for coverage would allow for no other cost-benefit ratio. Exotic studies will remain just that.

Not to mention, if your AWACS isn't "survivable" behind a thousand or so combat aircraft, you're doing it wrong.
 

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This is a bridge solution before something more survivable is fielded

I'm curious as to what you mean by survivable here? The idea of a LO or manoeuvrable AWACS is a little amusing. A new AWACS with the radar signature of a small songbird... until it radiates. Point? Force multiplier types (tankers, AWACS, ELINT etc.) will follow the form of civilian airliners well past the 2030s IMO. The numbers necessary for coverage would allow for no other cost-benefit ratio. Exotic studies will remain just that.

Not to mention, if your AWACS isn't "survivable" behind a thousand or so combat aircraft, you're doing it wrong.

It was in reference to a more survivable AMTI capability not a more survivable AWACS platform. The US and the joint forces are investing i JADC2 technologies, and part of that involves developing an operating picture and command and control at the tactical edge using distributed platforms and space capability.
 

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This is a bridge solution before something more survivable is fielded

I'm curious as to what you mean by survivable here? The idea of a LO or manoeuvrable AWACS is a little amusing. A new AWACS with the radar signature of a small songbird... until it radiates. Point? Force multiplier types (tankers, AWACS, ELINT etc.) will follow the form of civilian airliners well past the 2030s IMO. The numbers necessary for coverage would allow for no other cost-benefit ratio. Exotic studies will remain just that.

Not to mention, if your AWACS isn't "survivable" behind a thousand or so combat aircraft, you're doing it wrong.
In what video game are a thousand fighters backing up a handful of AWACS? In what video game are fighters shooting down a2a missiles with other missiles?
 

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The USAF plans to retain 500-600 F-16's, and will be operating more than 300 F-15's through the 2030's, and 2040's (F-15). Meanwhile, about 125 combat coded F-22's exist which means no more than 75 will be available at any given time given how poor the mission capability rates are for that platform. Only the F-35's will be available in quantity (about 700 combat coded in the USAF by 2030). E-7's will be a very valuable force multiplier for the upgraded 4th gen fleet, and will be a value add to the F-35 and F-22 fleet. This is a bridge solution before something more survivable is fielded in the second half of the 2030's or perhaps later. Much like the F-15C retirement, the AF was clearly too optimistic when it thought that the E-3's can make it through the 2030s. But given the state of that platform, the age of its sensor, its availability (it has failed to meet targets for several of the last years) they aren't going to squeeze out another decade to 15 years out of that platform.
Again we were screwed by Gates and Obama into flying legacy aircraft well past their twilight and now we need to still support them with another costly and otherwise unnecessary aircraft.... So how did that work out to saving the USA money on cancelling the Raptor? Huh Gates? Huh Obama?
 

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This is a bridge solution before something more survivable is fielded
Not to mention, if your AWACS isn't "survivable" behind a thousand or so combat aircraft, you're doing it wrong.
In what video game are a thousand fighters backing up a handful of AWACS? In what video game are fighters shooting down a2a missiles with other missiles?

Erm.... my point was if you have a few hundred 4.5gen fighters available with the odd 5gen thrown in, you may just be able to generate a pretty decent HAVCAP and more importantly sustain it. Just. I wasn't suggesting a thousand all at the same time. :rolleyes: Also, who mentioned shooting down missiles other than yourself? You shoot down the launch platforms. That tends to render the missiles academic. My point stands. If you have the sheer number of fighters mentioned in post 50 and you are losing high value assets like AWACS, you are messing up quite badly.

It was in reference to a more survivable AMTI capability not a more survivable AWACS platform. The US and the joint forces are investing i JADC2 technologies, and part of that involves developing an operating picture and command and control at the tactical edge using distributed platforms and space capability.
I think my point still stands here too. If you are persistently radiating (if you try LPI AMTI you'll end up doing neither very well) you are not "survivable". Unless I seriously missed something and you can do MTI passively now? Distributed platforms* just means you are spreading the vulnerability around. You will probably still need a central BACN bird to collate/process/redistribute the other platforms' data so it seems like you are at square one for survivability anyway. Are the space-borne platforms geo-sync? I don't think LEO can be considered invulnerable anymore.

*What distributed platforms are we talking here? Do UAVs have the wattage/antenna real estate to compete with a dedicated AWACS (even allowing for the reduced individual performance necessary)? Converted Gulfstreams et al are firmly rooted to survivability square one. Fighters would be better off staying in EMCON and letting an AWACS do their talking for them, surely?

Also, purely a semantic point but "tactical edge"? Euugghhhh. As opposed to what? The tactical middle? The tactical backside? I guess AO or theatre aren't badass enough anymore. I know terminology changes but bleuugghh!
 

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I think my point still stands here too. If you are persistently radiating (if you try LPI AMTI you'll end up doing neither very well) you are not "survivable". Unless I seriously missed something and you can do MTI passively now?

The point wasn't to make the individual radiating platform more survivable (though you can do that by making it harder to kill) but about having more numerous such platforms that contribute to a common operating picture. Also, at least one contractor has presented plans for a more survivable non-space related AMTI capability going back at least a decade in terms of having more survivable passive platforms.
Do UAVs have the wattage/antenna real estate to compete with a dedicated AWACS (even allowing for the reduced individual performance necessary)?
Why would they need to compete with the SWaP of an AWACS? Would they be covering the same area/airspace? Cost the same? or required to persist as long as an AWACS? JADC2 and the higher end ABMS needs called for stitching together a common picture from both existing assets that currently contribute to SA but don't pass it along, and new sensors dedicated to that role. The part that would be "developmental" would be the network, the connectivity, the translation, and the processing required for all this to make sense. The very high end part of JADC2 (the most survivable leg of that system) is not something that they've begun tackling yet but needless to say that this will have to happen (AWACS recap or no AWACS recap) and will most likely include LEO and MEO constellations if not for sensing then surely for transportation.
 

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E-7's will be a ....... bridge solution before something more survivable is fielded
It was in reference to a more survivable AMTI capability ..... investing in JADC2 technologies
developing an operating picture and command and control ........ using distributed platforms
Why would they need to compete with the SWaP of an AWACS?

Why would any speculative AWACS-replacing UAVs need to compete with an AWACS? Some of your quotes reproduced above led me to the impression that "JADC2 technologies" and it's "distributed platforms" were intended to replace/render obsolete AWACS, leading to speculation on my part as to what form a notional replacement might take. Have we crossed wires here somewhere?

On JADC2, what little I've found mostly amounts to the usual buzzwords, vague aspirations and "envisionments". Not really an AWACS replacement as was intimated above. In fact, my overall impression is AWACS must form an integral component of the achievable/nearer-term parts of the project. Space-based MTI may very well supplement airborne assets at some future date but replace them?

I remain sceptical that some of the more transformational concepts will ever be realized but perhaps I will leave all that to the visionaries!
 

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Do keep on looking and get back to us if you find something.
Why would any speculative AWACS-replacing UAVs need to compete with an AWACS?

Who said anything about replacing an AWACS (the platform) with a UAV? What has been mentioned has been to obtain the same capability by networking multiple different, and different type of sensors on new and existing platforms. I don't think anyone has ever hinted at each individual platform having the same, or superior attributes to an AWACS. I suppose if all one is interested in is looking for a full on platform replacement then they are unlikely to find one in JADC2. Now or even in the future. But that doesn't mean that that and related AF efforts aren't looking at obtaining that AMTI capability.
On JADC2, what little I've found mostly amounts to the usual buzzwords, vague aspirations and "envisionments". Not really an AWACS replacement as was intimated above.

It is a future capability but yes it is possible that all they are currently investing is in creating buzzwords and acronyms. In that case the E-7's will just remain a permanent solution so all the better we acquire those.
 
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Grey Havoc

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Unfortunately, 'systems not platforms' has not worked well at all in practice.
 

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Unfortunately, 'systems not platforms' has not worked well at all in practice.

Yes absolutely. As I said, it could be that the only capability JADC2 fields is a bunch of buzzwords and failures. Still worth trying a space plus networked airborne sensors approach and an interim capability buys them time because they are not at the mercy of E-3's needing to be replaced and can allow the technology to mature further.
 

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And let's be realistic, with several hundreds of stealth fighters on the line, US can really afford the luxury of air dominance around such assets in the next foreseeable years.
We are not talking about an AF with 50 something Rafale or J-17...
 

_Del_

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And let's be realistic, with several hundreds of stealth fighters on the line, US can really afford the luxury of air dominance around such assets in the next foreseeable years.
We are not talking about an AF with 50 something Rafale or J-17...
A (successfully functioning) ABMS that networks all the data from those assets and others, and which can make efficient tasking decisions automatically based on that input, is going to heavily outweigh even an E-3 or Wedgetail. And that is very much the direction that the Air Force is pursuing.

Which isn't to say a new AWACS-X is going to be useless, but the role as a sensor can probably be done by smaller (more affordable to buy and operate/attritable) platforms feeding into whatever is handling the ABMS itself.

So if something smaller and and proven can handle being the "eyes" and a flying node, I'd assume that will take precedence. I'd guess something akin to Wedgetails or the EL/W-2085 -- more or less off the shelf.

Of course we've seen how the KC-46 program has gone, so maybe my hopes are too high, even for a proven platform derivative.
 

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Let's consider the following architecture: an AWAC acts as the emitter. Given that it won't espect to receive a pulse in return, it can up its emitted frequency and then add considerable power to the signal.
Far beyond a network of stealth assets pickup the signal reflected and datalink it back to the AWAC. AWAC process the signal (such big platform can hold processing power much more easily) and distribute the picture to the network.
Et voila!
The only thing needed is to make sure that you have enough stealth platforms swarming the airspace.
 

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Let's consider the following architecture: an AWAC acts as the emitter. Given that it won't espect to receive a pulse in return, it can up its emitted frequency and then add considerable power to the signal.
Far beyond a network of stealth assets pickup the signal reflected and datalink it back to the AWAC. AWAC process the signal (such big platform can hold processing power much more easily) and distribute the picture to the network.
Et voila!
The only thing needed is to make sure that you have enough stealth platforms swarming the airspace.
Maybe just use background emitters, or pretend to be a civil emitter......The fishermen arent going to leave because people are flying planes they cant see.....
 

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The Air Force has taken the first step toward a rapid acquisition of Boeing’s E-7A Wedgetail airborne warning and control aircraft to replace the aging E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System, or AWACS, according to an Oct. 20 business opportunity announcement.

The Air Force announced it’s seeking information from Boeing to perform “studies, analyses, and activities required to ascertain the current E-7A baseline configuration and determine what additional work would be necessary” to make the aircraft compatible with Air Force “configuration standards and mandates.” It didn’t specify when it would be seeking the new airplane.

 

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I’ve heard some very positive things about the E-7’s MESA radar. That said…

A new sole-source contract to Boeing, called the “E-3 Replacement Aircraft Studies & Analyses”, shows the USAF is serious about acquiring the AEW&C aircraft and is looking to move quickly. Boeing is being paid to examine changes needed for E-7As to meet the USAF’s configuration standards and mandates, the service said in a contract award notice posted on 18 October.
Wonder how a sole-source contract would withstand scrutiny, even if Boeing is the incumbent contractor for USAF AEW&C systems.
 

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Wonder how a sole-source contract would withstand scrutiny, even if Boeing is the incumbent contractor for USAF AEW&C systems.

Is there a flying AEW&C of similar capability, similar number of operator stations, similar endurance and refueling capability out there with a currently existing production base in the US? ACC boss has already rejected the idea of the E-2D being considered given the platform so then that leaves the E-7 as the only other AEW currently in production in the US. If they go for the baseline E-7A with the UK funded enhancements and US specific requirements (OMS, Comms etc) or if they go for the new Northrop radar then both are currently available for a demonstration. It would be a straightforward contract to buy from an existing program. I'm sure Lockheed or others will try to pitch something that borrows an airliner from one program, and a foreign sensor and try to claim that it is mature, but the E-7 has virtually swept the market and is in production at the moment (both platform at least for a couple of more years, and the radar and other suite) and anything that they or someone else may offer isn't (in the form it is likely to be offered).
 
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"There is some urgency to getting a Wedgetail acquisition underway, as Boeing is eyeing an end to 737 Next-Generation—on which the E-7 is based—in the 2025 timeframe, hence the “diminishing manufacturing sources” information request.

What are the chances USAF chooses an aircraft not likely to move out of production like the 787 for reducing these risks of 'diminishing manufacturing sources'.
 

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What are the chances USAF chooses an aircraft not likely to move out of production like the 787 for reducing these risks of 'diminishing manufacturing sources'.
Selecting a new airframe for their RAWACS does anything but reduce risk. I don't think there is any serious contemplation of a new design. With the rate this is progressing, I expect an E-7 order from the USAF will be in well before anyone has to worry about 737NG production winding down, assuming Boeing isn't goosing anyone along with that shut-down date.... I expect a few more Poseidon orders will be along to help the line tick over as well.
 

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E-7 seems like a quick off the shelf purchase that will enable the USAF to have a much more modern, much more available AWACS platform. I can’t imagine there would be a change of aircraft, though perhaps a sensor update would be allowed/required. But even that would introduce a lot of risk into a program in terms of time, if not also money.

With regard to survivability of the platform: As noted, there are numerous missions that still could be served. These missions include non peer competitors, regions where peers cannot deploy significant air to air assets, as well as tracking peer competitors in peacetime. Additionally, future defensive measures may make such platforms more survivable - the USAF is experimenting with/developing anti AAM technology in the form of small counter missiles and podded lasers.

Moreover, counter detect of the emitter by a peer is most likely unavoidable and peer systems likely will have the same issues. The only work around I can foresee is the use of UAVs of significantly less cost and capability, augmented by data collected by fighter aircraft themselves. It seems likely that some combination of F-35/‘RQ-180’/B-21 will already have some capability in this regard, if not in wide area sensor coverage then at least in data collection, fusion, and dissemination via LPI datalink and signal form translation services like those provided on RQ-4 and TALON HATE gateways. This is probably the most that can be achieved in terms of survivable air coverage - non 360 degree services that attempt to combine multiple sensors to at least cover areas of interest/threat axis, with true AWACS having to operate further back to provide command and coordination more remotely and possibly in a more passive and directional mode.
 
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bring_it_on

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The UK originally ordered 5 aircraft, before cutting their purchase down to 3. This leaves 2 that Boeing (and NG for the radar and other equiment) could keep on producing and deliver relatively quickly to the USAF if this begins to move fast in FY23 or FY24. Boeing did that with the F-15EX where it basically worked out a deal to route a few Qatar slots to get the first two F-15EX's out the door within 8-9 months of contract award with the remaining six taking the more traditional 24-36 months from order. Given this is an urgent need and is time critical (ACC boss said yesterday at an AFA event that his timeline to field E-7 was "two years ago"), I'm sure the USAF will accept an E-7 with OMS computers, some comms enhancements to support ABMS and perhaps some minor updates to the sensor. The Terracotta sensor that Northrop is pitching can perhaps come in later deliveries (OMS should allow them to introduce upgrades in production lots a lot easier as is also the OMS approach on the F-15eX). Given what the ACC and PACAF have been saying (and assuming it is true), then they are single digit years away from the E-3's basically falling to abysmal readiness rates and not being available to support any high tempo ops if needed. E-3 already does not meet current readiness requirements so this will become an issue later this decade in case the demand signal from INDO PACOM or CENTCOM increases. This impacts both readiness and modernization so I think the acquisition side of the house (in USAF and DOD) will look to expedite this which likely means an E-7 with minimal changes and a lot of room for growth via future spirals.
 
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aonestudio

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The feasibility studies are a key milestone in the AFSC programme which aims to support NATO and NATO nations as they consider the Alliance’s future tactical surveillance, command and control capabilities after the current Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) fleet reaches the end of its service life in 2035.

 

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FighterJock

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I hope that the USAF will buy the E-7 Wedgetail and in large numbers as well because the E-3 fleet is not getting any younger.
 

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good news. it also seems like the E-7 can match the capabilities of the E-3 and the 767 based awacs
in a smaller airframe with a smaller crew?
 

bring_it_on

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Those two that they didn't buy will probably be the first test jets that the USAF will want to get early much like they did with the two F-15EX test jets. The USAF plans to buy the E-7 gives the UK several years to decide on adding to the fleet in the future as the US decision is likely to also lead to future foreign sales of the platform thus not requiring a pause in production that makes it more expensive to buy additional systems.
 

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