The Boeing E-3 Sentry, commonly known as AWACS, is an airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft developed by Boeing as the prime contractor. Derived from the Boeing 707, it provides all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications, and is used by the United States Air Force (USAF), NATO, Royal Air Force (RAF), French Air Force and Royal Saudi Air Force. The E-3 is distinguished by the distinctive rotating radar dome above the fuselage. Production ended in 1992 after 68 aircraft had been built.
In the mid-1960s, the USAF was seeking an aircraft to replace its piston-engined Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star, which had seen service for over a decade. After issuing preliminary development contracts to three companies, the USAF picked Boeing to construct two airframes to test Westinghouse Electric's and Hughes's competing radars. Both radars used Pulse-Doppler technology, with Westinghouse's design emerging as the contract winner. Col. Emmett Virgil Conkling, who was an early participant in radar development in England prior to the official U.S. entry into WWII, retired from his position with the Air Force in the Pentagon and took the position of head of development in Seattle. Testing on the first production E-3 began in October 1975.
The first USAF E-3 was delivered in March 1977, and during the next seven years, a total of 34 aircraft were manufactured. NATO, as a single identity, also had eighteen aircraft manufactured, basing them in Germany. The E-3 was also sold to the United Kingdom (seven) and France (four) and Saudi Arabia (five, plus eight E-3 derived tanker aircraft). In 1991, by which time the last aircraft had been delivered, E-3s participated in Operation Desert Storm, playing a crucial role of directing Coalition aircraft against the enemy. Throughout the aircraft's service life, numerous upgrades were performed to enhance its capabilities. In 1996, Westinghouse Electric was acquired by Northrop before being renamed Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, which currently supports the E-3's radar.Overview
The E-3 Sentry's airframe is a modified Boeing 707-320B Advanced model. USAF and NATO E-3s have an unrefuelled range of some 4,000 mi (6,400 km) or eight hours of flying. The newer E-3 versions bought by France, Saudi Arabia and the UK are equipped with newer CFM56-2 turbofan engines, and these can fly for about 11 hours or about 5,000 mi (8,000 km). The Sentry's range and on-station time can be increased through air-to-air refuelling and the crews can work in shifts by the use of an on-board crew rest and meals area.
When deployed, the E-3 monitors an assigned area of the battlefield and provides information for commanders of air operations to gain and maintain control of the battle; whilst as an air defence asset, E-3s can detect, identify and track airborne enemy forces far from the boundaries of the U.S. or NATO countries and can direct fighter-interceptor aircraft to these targets. In support of air-to-ground operations, the E-3 can provide direct information needed for interdiction, reconnaissance, airlift and close-air support for friendly ground forces.Avionics
The unpressurised rotodome is 30 feet (9.1 m) in diameter, six feet (1.8 m) thick at the centre, and is held 11 feet (3.4 m) above the fuselage by two struts. It is tilted down at the front to reduce its air drag during take-off, and while flying endurance speed (which is corrected electronically by both the radar and SSR antenna phase shifters). The dome uses both bleed air and cooling doors to remove the heat generated by electronic and mechanical equipment. The hydraulically rotated antenna system permits the Westinghouse Corporation's AN/APY-1 and AN/APY-2 passive electronically scanned array radar system to provide surveillance from the Earth's surface up into the stratosphere, over land or water.
Other major subsystems in the E-3 Sentry are navigation, communications, and computers. Consoles display computer-processed data in graphic and tabular format on video screens. Console operators perform surveillance, identification, weapons control, battle management and communications functions. The radar and computer subsystems on the E-3 can gather and present broad and detailed battlefield information. This includes position and tracking information on enemy aircraft and ships, and location and status of friendly aircraft and naval vessels. The information can be sent to major command and control centres in rear areas or aboard ships.
Electrical generators mounted on each of the E-3's four engines provide the one megawatt of electrical power that is required by the E-3's radars and other electronics. Its pulse-Doppler radar (PD) has a range of more than 250 mi (400 km) for low-flying targets at its operating altitude, and the pulse (BTH) radar has a range of approximately 400 mi (650 km) for aircraft flying at medium to high altitudes. The radar combined with a secondary surveillance radar to provide a look down to detect, identify and track enemy and friendly low-flying aircraft while eliminating ground clutter (radar) returns.Upgrades
Starting in 1987, USAF E-3s were upgraded under the "Block 30/35 Modification Program" to enhance the E-3's capabilities. On 30 October 2001, final airframe to be upgraded under this program was rolled out. Several major enhancements were made, firstly the installation of electronic support measures (ESM) and an electronic surveillance capability, for both active and passive means of detection. The Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) provides rapid and secure communication for transmitting information, including target positions and identification data, to other friendly platforms. Global Positioning System (GPS) capability was also added. On-board computers were also overhauled to accommodate JTIDS, Link-16, the new ESM systems and to provide for future enhancements.
The Radar System Improvement Program (RSIP) was a joint US/NATO development program. RSIP enhances the operational capability of the E-3 radars' electronic countermeasures, and dramatically improve the system's reliability, maintainability, and availability. Essentially, this program replaced the older transistor-transistor logic (TTL) and emitter-coupled logic (MECL) electronic components, long-since out of production, with off-the-shelf digital computers that utilised a High-level programming language instead of assembly language. Significant improvement came from replacing the old 8-bit FFT with 24-bit FFTs, and the 12-bit A/D (Sign + 12-bits) with a 15-bit A/D (Sign + 15-bits). These hardware and software modifications improve the E-3 radars' performance, providing enhanced detection with an emphasis towards low radar cross-section (RCS) targets.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) had also joined the USAF in adding RSIP to upgrade the E-3's radars. The retrofitting of the E-3 squadrons were completed in December 2000. Along with the RSIP upgrade was installation of the Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation Systems which dramatically improve positioning accuracy. In 2002, Boeing was awarded a contract to add RSIP to the small French AWACS squadron. Installation was completed in 2006.Operational history
In March 1977 the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing (now the 552d Air Control Wing) at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma received the first E-3 aircraft. The 34th and last USAF Sentry was delivered in June 1984. In March 1996, the USAF activated the 513th Air Control Group (513 ACG), an ACC-gained Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC) AWACS unit under the Reserve Associate Program. Collocated with the 552 ACW at Tinker AFB, the 513 ACG which performs similar duties on active duty E-3 aircraft shared with the 552 ACW.
The USAF have a total of thirty-one E-3s in active service. Twenty-seven are stationed at Tinker AFB and belong to the Air Combat Command (ACC). Four are assigned to the Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) and stationed at Kadena AB, Okinawa and Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. One aircraft (TS-3) was assigned to Boeing for testing and development (retired/scrapped June 2012).
In 1977 Iran placed an order for ten E-3's, however this order was cancelled following the 1979 revolution.
NATO acquired 18 E-3As and support equipment for a NATO air defence force. Since all aircraft must be registered with a certain country, the decision was made to register the 18 NATO Sentries with Luxembourg, a NATO member that previously did not have any air force. The first NATO E-3 was delivered in January 1982. The eighteen E-3s were operated by Number 1, 2 and 3 Squadrons of NATO's E-3 Component, based at NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen. Presently 17 NATO E-3As are in the inventory, since one E-3 was lost in a crash.
The United Kingdom and France are not part of the NATO E-3A Component, instead procuring E-3 aircraft through a joint project. The UK and France operate their E-3 aircraft independently of each other and of NATO. The UK operates six aircraft (with a seventh now retired) and France operates four aircraft, all fitted with the newer CFM56-2 engines. The British requirement came about following the cancellation of the British Aerospace Nimrod AEW3 project to replace the Avro Shackleton AEW2 during the 1980s. The UK E-3 order was placed in February 1987, with deliveries starting in 1990. The other operator of the type, delivered between June 1986 and September 1987, is Saudi Arabia which operates five aircraft, all fitted with CFM56-2 engines, This particular sale was hotly contested between the Reagan administration and opponents of the sale
E-3 Sentry aircraft were among the first to deploy during Operation Desert Shield, where they immediately established as an around-the-clock radar screen to defend against Iraqi forces. During Operation Desert Storm, E-3s flew 379 missions and logged 5,052 hours of on-station time. The data collection capability of the E-3 radar and computer subsystems allowed an entire air war to be recorded for the first time in history. In addition to providing senior leadership with time-critical information on the actions of enemy forces, E-3 controllers assisted in 38 of the 41 air-to-air kills recorded during the conflict. NATO and RAF E-3s participated in the international military operation in Libya.
On 27 January 2015, the RAF deployed an E-3D Sentry to Cyprus in support of U.S.-led coalition air-strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. The Sentry joins RAF Panavia Tornado, MQ-9 Reaper, and AirTanker Voyager aircraft performing or supporting almost daily strikes against militants.United Kingdom
The Royal Air Force purchased seven E-3Ds by October 1987. Six are operational and one is used for training. The aircraft are designated Sentry AEW.1.
No. 8 Squadron
No. 23 Squadron – (disbanded in 2009)
No. 54 Squadron