A new version of the U.S. Navy's
E-2 Hawkeye radar aircraft, the E-2D is being tested, and is expected to enter
service in three years. Originally introduced in 1964, the two engine, 24 ton
E-2 was never produced in large quantities (fewer than a hundred are in use).
Last Summer, the E-2 fleet reached a milestone, of a million flight hours. The
current E-2C models cost about $51 million each and are difficult to maintain
because of their age. The E-2s always contained a large quantity of the most
modern, and failure prone, electronics. Operating mostly off carriers, and thus
constantly exposed to corrosive, salty ocean air, the aircraft take a beating.
The five man crew are mostly concerned with using the large radar carried atop
the aircraft, and keeping track of friendly, and hostile, aircraft and missiles
at up to 400 kilometers distance.
aircraft can stay in the air for 4-6 hours at a time, and cruises at 450
kilometers an hour. The aircraft have had their electronics constantly upgraded
over the years. Currently, the three "system operators" use large flat screen
displays and many gigabytes of disk storage each (for capturing and comparing
data) to operate as a sea-going AWACS. It was the navy that developed the AWACS
concept at the end of World War II, using Avenger light bombers, equipped with
radar, to control large carrier strikes.
American aircraft carrier has four E-2s, and the U.S. Navy a total fleet of
about 70 E-2s. There are several dozen in service in other countries, but only
France operates them from carriers. Everyone else uses land bases. About half
the E-2s ever built are still flying, and the
United States expects to keep using them (as the E-2D) into the 2020s. After
that, an unmanned aircraft will probably replace the E-2.
latest, and probably last, model, the E-2D, has new engines, a new phased array
radar, new electronics and many other improvements. Development and
manufacturing of 75 E-2Ds for the U.S. Navy will cost about $206 million per
aircraft. The E-2D will have longer range, and more accurate, radar as well as
a much more efficient and reliable computer systems. Many of the current E-2Cs will get some of the electronics improvements, depending on how much money is available.