An airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system is an airborne radar picket system designed to detect aircraft, ships, vehicles, missiles, and other incoming projectiles at long ranges and perform command and control of the battlespace in an air engagement by directing fighter and attack aircraft strikes. AEW&C units are also used to carry out surveillance, including over ground targets and frequently perform C2BM (command and control, battle management) functions similar to an Air Traffic Controller given military command over other forces. When used at altitude, the radar on the aircraft allows the operators to detect and track targets and distinguish between friendly and hostile aircraft much farther away than a similar ground-based radar. Like a ground-based radar, it can be detected by opposing forces, but because of its mobility and extended sensor range, it is much less vulnerable to counter-attacks.
AEW&C aircraft are used for both defensive and offensive air operations, and are to NATO and US-trained or integrated air forces what the combat information center is to a naval warship, in addition to being a highly mobile and powerful radar platform. The system is used offensively to direct fighters to their target locations, and defensively, directing counterattacks on enemy forces, both air and ground. So useful is the advantage of command and control aircraft operating at a high altitude, that some navies operate such aircraft from their warships at sea. In the case of US Navy, the Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye AEW&C aircraft is assigned to its supercarriers to protect them and augment their onboard command information centers (CICs). The designation airborne early warning (AEW) was used for earlier similar aircraft, such as the Fairey Gannet AEW.3 and Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star, and continues to be used by the RAF for its Sentry AEW1, while AEW&C (airborne early warning and control) emphasizes the command and control capabilities that may not be present on smaller or simpler radar picket aircraft. AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) is the name of the specific system installed in the E-3 and Japanese Boeing E-767 AEW&C airframes, but is often used as a general synonym for AEW&C.
The first known aerial engagement with both opposing sides using Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft was in the Indian Subcontinent, during the February 2019 aerial engagements between India and Pakistan, with India using A-50I Phalcon and DRDO Netra AWACS and Pakistan using the Saab 2000.
Modern AEW&C systems can detect aircraft from up to 400 km (220 nmi) away, well out of range of most surface-to-air missiles. One AEW&C aircraft flying at 9,000 m (30,000 ft) can cover an area of 312,000 km2 (120,000 sq mi). Three such aircraft in overlapping orbits can cover the whole of Central Europe. AEW&C systems communicate with friendly aircraft, vectoring fighters towards hostile aircraft or any flying unidentified object, providing data on threats and targets, help extend their sensor range and make offensive aircraft more difficult to track, since they no longer need to keep their own radar active (which can be detected by the enemy) to detect threats.
History of developmentEdit
After having developed Chain Home—the first ground-based early-warning radar detection system—in the 1930s, the British developed a radar set that could be carried on an aircraft for what they termed "Air Controlled Interception". The intention was to cover the North West approaches where German long range Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor aircraft were threatening shipping. A Vickers Wellington bomber (serial R1629) was fitted with a rotating antenna array. It was tested for use against aerial targets and then for possible use against German E boats. Another radar equipped Wellington with a different installation was used to direct Bristol Beaufighters toward Heinkel He 111s, which were air-launching V-1 flying bombs.
In February 1944, US Navy ordered the development of a radar system that could be carried aloft in an aircraft under Project Cadillac. A prototype system was built and flown in August on a modified TBM Avenger torpedo bomber. Tests were successful, with the system being able to detect low flying formations at a range greater than 100 miles (160 km). US Navy then ordered production of the TBM-3W, the first production AEW aircraft to enter service. TBM-3Ws fitted with the AN/APS-20 radar entered service in March 1945, with 27 eventually constructed. It was also recognised that a larger land-based aircraft would be attractive, thus, under the Cadillac II program, multiple Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress bombers were also outfitted with the same radar.
The Lockheed WV and EC-121 Warning Star, which first flew in 1949, served widely with US Air Force and US Navy. It provided the main AEW coverage for US forces during the Vietnam war. It remained operational until replaced with the E-3 AWACS. Developed roughly in parallel, N-class blimps were also used as AEW aircraft, filling gaps in radar coverage for the continental US, their tremendous endurance of over 200 hours being a major asset in an AEW aircraft. Following a crash, the US Navy opted to discontinue lighter than air operations in 1962.
In 1958, the Soviet Tupolev Design Bureau was ordered to design an AEW aircraft. After determining that the projected radar instrumentation wouldn't fit in a Tupolev Tu-95 or a Tupolev Tu-116, the decision was made to use the more capacious Tupolev Tu-114 instead. This solved the problems with cooling and operator space that existed with the narrower Tu-95 and Tu-116 fuselage. To meet range requirements, production examples were fitted with an air-to-air refueling probe. The resulting system, the Tupolev Tu-126, entered service in 1965 with the Soviet Air Forces and remained in service until replaced by the Beriev A-50 in 1984.
During the Cold war, United Kingdom deployed a substantial AEW capability, initially with American Douglas AD-4W Skyraiders, designated Skyraider AEW.1, which in turn were replaced by the Fairey Gannet AEW.3, using the same AN/APS-20 radar. With the retirement of conventional aircraft carriers, the Gannet was withdrawn and the Royal Air Force (RAF) installed the radars from the Gannets on Avro Shackleton MR.2 airframes, redesignated Shackleton AEW.2. To replace the Shackleton AEW.2, an AEW variant of the Hawker Siddeley Nimrod, known as the Nimrod AEW3, was ordered in 1974. After a protracted and problematic development, this was cancelled in 1986, and seven E-3Ds, designated Sentry AEW.1 in RAF service, were purchased instead.
Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS)Edit
Boeing produces a specific system with a 'rotodome' rotating radome that incorporates Westinghouse (now Northrop Grumman) radar. It is mounted on either the E-3 Sentry aircraft (Boeing 707) or more recently the Boeing E-767 (Boeing 767), the latter only being used by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.
When AWACS first entered service it represented a major advance in capability, being the first AEW to use a pulse-Doppler radar, which allowed it to track targets normally lost in ground clutter. Previously, low-flying aircraft could only be readily tracked over water. The AWACS features a three-dimensional radar that measures azimuth, range, and elevation simultaneously; the unit installed upon the E-767 has superior surveillance capability over water compared to the AN/APY-1 system on the earlier E-3 models.
The E-2 Hawkeye was a specially designed AEW aircraft. Upon its entry to service in 1965, it was initially plagued by technical issues, causing a (later reversed) cancellation. Procurement resumed after efforts to improve reliability, such as replacement of the original rotary drum computer used for processing radar information by a Litton L-304 digital computer. In addition to purchases by the US Navy, the E-2 Hawkeye has been sold to the armed forces of Egypt, France, Israel, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan.
The latest E-2 version is the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, which features the new AN/APY-9 radar. The APY-9 radar has been speculated to be capable of detecting fighter-sized stealth aircraft, which are typically optimized against high frequencies like Ka, Ku, X, C and parts of the S-bands. Historically, UHF radars had resolution and detection issues that made them ineffective for accurate targeting and fire control; Northrop Grumman and Lockheed claim that the APY-9 has solved these shortcomings in the APY-9 using advanced electronic scanning and high digital computing power via space/time adaptive processing.
The Russian Air Force is currently using approximately 15–20 Beriev A-50 and A-50U "Shmel" in the AEW role. The "Mainstay" is based on the Ilyushin Il-76 airframe, with a large non-rotating disk radome on the rear fuselage. These replaced the 12 Tupolev Tu-126 that filled the role previously. The A-50 and A-50U will eventually be replaced by the Beriev A-100, which features an AESA array in the radome and is based on the updated Il-476.
In May 1997, Russia and Israel agreed to jointly fulfill an order from China to develop and deliver an early warning system. China reportedly ordered one Phalcon for $250 million, which entailed retrofitting a Russian-made Ilyushin-76 cargo plane [also incorrectly reported as a Beriev A-50 Mainstay] with advanced Elta electronic, computer, radar and communications systems. Beijing was expected to acquire several Phalcon AEW systems, and reportedly could buy at least three more [and possibly up to eight] of these systems, the prototype of which was planned for testing beginning in 2000. In July 2000 US pressured Israel to back out of the $1 billion agreement to sell China four Phalcon phased-array radar systems. Following the cancelled A-50I/Phalcon deal, China turned to indigenous solutions. The Phalcon radar and other electronic systems were taken off from the unfinished Il-76, and the airframe was handed to China via Russia in 2002. The Chinese AWACS has a unique phased array radar (PAR) carried in a round radome. Unlike the US AWACS aircraft, which rotate their rotodomes to give a 360 degree coverage, the radar antenna of the Chinese AWACS does not rotate. Instead, three PAR antenna modules are placed in a triangular configuration inside the round radome to provide a 360 degree coverage. The installation of equipment at the Il-76 began in late 2002 aircraft by Xian aircraft industries (Xian Aircraft Industry Co.). The first flight of an airplane KJ-2000 made in November 2003. All four machines will be equipped with this type. The last to be introduced into service the Chinese Air Force until the end of 2007. China is also developing a carrier based AEW&C, Xian KJ-600 via Y-7 derived Xian JZY-01 testbed.
In 2003, the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) began a study of requirements for developing an Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWAC) system. In 2015, DRDO delivered 3 AWACs, called Netra, to the IAF with an advanced Indian AESA radar system fitted on the Brazilian Embraer EMB-145 air frame. Netra gives a 240-degree coverage of airspace. The Emb-145 also has air-to-air refuelling capability for longer surveillance time. The IAF also operates three Israeli EL/W-2090 systems, mounted on Ilyushin Il-76 airframes, the first of which first arrived on 25 May 2009. The DRDO proposed a more advanced AWACS with a longer range and with a 360-degree coverage akin to the Phalcon system, based on the Airbus A330 airframe, but given the costs involved there is also the possibility of converting used A320 airliners as well.
The Royal Australian Air Force, Republic of Korea Air Force and the Turkish Air Force are deploying Boeing 737 AEW&C aircraft. The Boeing 737 AEW&C has a fixed, active electronically scanned array radar antenna instead of a rotating one, and is capable of simultaneous air and sea search, fighter control and area search, with a maximum range of over 600 km (look-up mode). In addition, the radar antenna array is also doubled as an ELINT array, with a maximum range of over 850 km at 9,000 metres (30,000 ft) altitude.
The Swedish Air Force uses the S 100D Argus ASC890 as its AEW platform. The S 100D Argus is based on the Saab 340 with an Ericsson Erieye PS-890 radar. Saab also offers the Bombardier Global 6000-based GlobalEye. In early 2006, the Pakistan Air Force ordered six Erieye AEW equipped Saab 2000s from Sweden. In December 2006, the Pakistan Navy requested three excess P-3 Orion aircraft to be equipped with Hawkeye 2000 AEW systems. China and Pakistan also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the joint development of AEW&C systems.
Israel has developed the IAI/Elta EL/M-2075 Phalcon system, which uses an AESA (active electronically scanned array) in lieu of a rotodome antenna. The system was the first such system to enter service. The original Phalcon was mounted on a Boeing 707 and developed for the Israeli Defense Force and for export. Israel uses IAI EL/W-2085 airborne early warning and control multi-band radar system on Gulfstream G550; this platform is considered to be both more capable and less expensive to operate than the older Boeing 707-based Phalcon fleet.
Helicopter AEW systemsEdit
The British Sea King ASaC7 naval helicopter was operated from both the Invincible-class aircraft carriers and later the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean. The creation of Sea King ASaC7, and earlier AEW.2 and AEW.5 models, came as the consequence of lessons learnt by the Royal Navy during the 1982 Falklands War when the lack of AEW coverage for the task force was a major tactical handicap, and rendered them vulnerable to low-level attack. The Sea King was determined to be both more practical and responsive than the proposed alternative of relying on the RAF's land-based Shackleton AEW.2 fleet. The first examples were a pair of Sea King HAS2s that had the Thorn-EMI ARI 5980/3 Searchwater LAST radar attached to the fuselage on a swivel arm and protected by an inflatable dome. The improved Sea King ASaC7 featured the Searchwater 2000AEW radar, which was capable of simultaneously tracking up to 400 targets, instead of an earlier limit of 250 targets. The Spanish Navy fields the SH-3 Sea King in the same role, operated from the LPH Juan Carlos I.
The AgustaWestland EH-101A AEW of the Italian Navy is operated from the aircraft carriers Cavour and Giuseppe Garibaldi. During the 2010s, the Royal Navy opted to replace its Sea Kings with a modular "Crowsnest" system that can be fitted to any of their Merlin HM2 fleet. The Crowsnest system was partially based upon the Sea King ASaC7's equipment; an unsuccessful bid by Lockheed Martin had proposed using a new multi-functional sensor for either the AW101 or another aircraft. The Russian-built Kamov Ka-31 is deployed by the Indian Navy on the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and Talwar-class frigates and will be deployed on the INS Vikrant. The Russian Navy has two Ka-31R variants, at least one of which was deployed on their aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov in 2016. It is fitted with E-801M Oko (Eye) airborne electronic warfare radar that can track 20 targets simultaneously, detecting aircraft up to 150 km (90 mi) away, and surface warships up to 200 km (120 mi) distant.
- Neufeld 1997, p. 276.
- Neufeld 1997, p. 278.
- Gordon 2010, p. 3.
- "Boeing Delivers First Two 767 AWACS, Introduces Newest Member of AEW&C Family". MediaRoom.
- "AWACS to Bridge the Technological Gap". Air University. Archived from the original on 27 June 2004. Retrieved 14 February 2009.
- DRDO (April 2021). "NETRA : THE INDIGENEOUS AIRBORNE EARLY WARNING & CONTROL SYSTEM EYE IN THE SKY" (PDF). Retrieved 11 October 2021.
- "Key takeaways from IAF-PAF's February 27 aerial engagement".
- "AWACS: Nato's eyes in the sky" (PDF). Nato.
- Air-Britain, Aviation World, 2004,
- Hodges, R, "Air controlled interception," Radar Development to 1945 R W Burns (ed),
- Flypastm April 1987: "The First AWACS".
- R.H. Hamilton in Perkins, L.W., ed., Flight into Yesterday – A Memory or Two from Members of the Wartime Aircrew Club of Kelowna, L.P. Laserprint, Ltd., Kelowna, B.C., 2000, and 407 Squadron History 1941–1996 – a Narrative History, 407 Squadron, 1996.
- Hirst 1983, p. 59.
- Hirst 1983, p. 64.
- Hirst 1983, p. 60.
- Corell, John T. "Igloo White." Air Force Magazine, Vol. 87, No. 11, November 2004 via web.archive.org. Retrieved: 23 December 2010.
- Wilson 1998, p. 72.
- "Navy Airship Longer Than Football Field." Popular Mechanics, September 1952, p. 117, bottom.
- Sky Ships: A History of the Airship in the United States Navy, Althoff, W.F., Pacifica Press, c1991, ISBN 0-935553-32-0
- Moore, Kirk (27 October 2011). "After 50 years, Navy resumes airship program". Navy Times.
- Gordon 2006, p. 86.
- Gordon 2006, p. 87.
- Gibson 2011, p. 10
- Tyack 2005, p. 87.
- "BAe Nimrod AEW 3." Archived 2 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine Spyflight. Retrieved: 21 October 2010.
- Air World, April 1998 Special edition "Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft E-767 & E-3" p. 30.
- Neufeld 1997, p. 271.
- Air World, April 1998 Special edition "Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft E-767 & E-3" p. 37.
- Boeing 767 AWACS Overview Archived June 4, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Boeing
- Taylor 1976, p. 291.
- "across the editor's desk: COMPUTING AND DATA PROCESSING NEWSLETTER - LITTON'S L-304". Computers and Automation. 14 (10): 43–44. Oct 1965.
- "COMPUTERS AND DATA PROCESSORS, NORTH AMERICA: 4. Litton Industries, Guidance and Control Systems Division, L-304 Militarized Computer, Woodland Hills, California". Digital Computer Newsletter. 18 (1): 23. Jan 1966. Archived from the original on June 3, 2018. Retrieved February 25, 2019.
- "The Litton L-304 Dual Computer System". trailing-edge.com. 1966. p. 2. Retrieved August 1, 2016.
L-304E with 4096 words of memory was completed and put in operation. Very shortly thereafter, the computer was tied to a typewriter, paper tape reader and punch, a small magnetic tape, a real-time clock and a small CRT display and control console.Alt URL
- "1967 Pictorial Report on the Computer Field: DIGITAL COMPUTERS - TACTICAL AUTOMATIC DATA PROCESSING SYSTEM (TADPS)". Computers and Automation (12): 35. Dec 1967.
- Donald, David, ed. "Grumman E-2 Hawkeye/TE-2/C-2 Greyhound". The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft. Barnes & Nobel Books, 1997. ISBN 0-7607-0592-5.
- Majumdar, Dave (16 October 2014). "Navy Declares IOC For E-2D Advanced Hawkeye". US Naval Institute. Archived from the original on 24 July 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
- The U.S. Navy's Secret Counter-Stealth Weapon Could Be Hiding in Plain Sight Archived 9 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine – News.USNI.org, 9 June 2014.
- Butowski, Piotr. "Model Reveals A-100 Configuration". Air International, April 2014. Retrieved: 21 July 2014.
- "Kongjing-2000 (KJ-2000) Mainring". GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 1 April 2015.
- "Development of Airborne Early Warning and Control System" (Press release). Press Information Bureau, GoI. 11 December 2003. Retrieved 25 July 2008.
- Peri, Dinaker. "India to fill gaps in aerial vigilance". The Hindu. Retrieved 27 February 2017.
- "Arms deal underway, first Israeli Phalcon lands in India – Israel News". Ynetnews.com. 20 June 1995. Archived from the original on 28 May 2009. Retrieved 1 June 2009.
- "India set to decide big military aircraft deals". India Strategic. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
- Mathews, Neelam (28 March 2019). "India Renews Indigenous AWACS Efforts". ainonline.com.
- Newdick, Thomas (18 December 2020). "India To Modify Used Airliners Into Early-Warning Radar Jets To Keep Pace With Its Rivals". The Warzone. Brookline Media Inc.
- "Defense & Security Intelligence & Analysis: IHS Jane's - IHS". janes.com. Archived from the original on 29 April 2012. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
- 07-Apr-2008 11:12 EDT (7 April 2008). "Sweden Finalizes Saab 2000 AEW&C Contract With Pakistan". Defenseindustrydaily.com. Retrieved 1 June 2009.
- "C4ISRJournal.com". C4ISRJournal.com. 11 December 2006. Archived from the original on 8 July 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2009.
- Klasra, Rauf (18 December 2008). "$278m AWACS deal struck with China". The News International. Archived from the original on 18 December 2008.
- Hellenic Air Force: Embraer EMB-145H AEW&C Archived 28 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine
- "Saab receives order for upgrade of mission system Erieye for Brazil". News Powered by Cision. Archived from the original on 23 February 2016. Retrieved 1 February 2016.
- Barreira, Victor (13 May 2019). "Brazil seeks first modernised AEW&C aircraft in 2020". Jane's 360. Rio de Janeiro. Archived from the original on 13 May 2019. Retrieved 14 May 2019.
- "B707 Phalcon, "Israeli Weapons.com"". Israeli-weapons.com. Retrieved 2012-03-31.
- Egozi, Arie (23 March 2010). "Israeli air force showcases G550 surveillance fleet". Flight International. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
- "Sikorsky Archives | S-56/HR2S-1/H-37 Helicopter".
- Armistead and Armistead 2002, p. 131.
- "Cerberus set for service aboard Sea King Whiskey, Upgrade Update." Archived 8 July 2011 at Wikiwix Jane's International Defence Review, 24 September 2002. Retrieved 19 April 2012.
- Armistead and Armistead 2002, pp. 132–134.
- "EH - 101". Italian Ministry of Defense. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
- Hoyle, Craig (22 May 2015). "Thales bags selection for RN Crowsnest system". Flight Global.
- "Janes | Latest defence and security news". Archived from the original on 29 May 2014. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
- Hoyle, Craig (15 September 2011). "Thales outlines Sea King 7 replacement proposal". Flight International. Archived from the original on 11 December 2011. Retrieved 5 January 2012.
- "New surveillance system for future Royal Navy aircraft carriers revealed". gov.uk. Archived from the original on 17 July 2015. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
- "Ka-31 Radar Picket Airborne Early Warning (AEW) Helicopter, Russia". Airforce-technology. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
- "Carrier-based Ka-52K bound for Syria", Combat Aircraft, 21 October 2016
- Armistead, Leigh and Edwin Armistead. Awacs and Hawkeyes: The Complete History of Airborne Early Warning Aircraft. St Paul, Minnesota: Zenith Imprint, 2002. ISBN 0-7603-1140-4.
- Davies, Ed. "AWACS Origins: Brassboard – Quest for the E-3 Radar". Air Enthusiast. No. 119, September/October 2005. Stamford, Lincs, UK: Key Publishing. pp. 2–6. ISSN 0143-5450.
- Gibson, Chris (2011). The Admiralty and AEW: Royal Navy Airborne Early Warning Projects. Blue Envoy Press. ISBN 978-0956195128.
- Gordon, Yefim; Komissarov, Dmitriy (2010). Soviet/Russian AWACS Aircraft: Tu-126, A-50, An-71, Ka-31. Red Star Vol. 23. Hinckley, England: Midland Publishing. ISBN 978-1857802153.
- Gordon, Yefim; Davison, Peter (2006). Tupolev Tu-95 Bear. Warbird Tech. 43. North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press. ISBN 978-1-58007-102-4.
- Hazell, Steve (2000). Fairey Gannet. Warpaint Series No.23. Buckinghamshire, England: Hall Park Books. ISSN 1363-0369.
- Hirst, Mike (1983). Airborne Early Warning: Design, Development, and Operations. London: Osprey. ISBN 978-0-85045-532-8.
- Hurturk, Kivanc N. (1998). History of the Boeing 707. New Hills: Buchair. ISBN 0-9666368-0-5.
- Lake, Jon (February 2009). "Aircraft of the RAF – Part 10 Sentry AEW.1". Air International. Vol. 76 no. 2. Stamford, UK: Key Publishing. pp. 44–47.
- Lloyd, Alwyn T. (1987). Boeing 707 & AWACS. in Detail and Scale. Falbrook, CA: Aero Publishers. ISBN 0-8306-8533-2.
- Neufeld, Jacob; Watson Jr., George M.; Chenoweth, David (1997). Technology and the Air Force. A Retrospective Assessment. Washington, D.C.: United States Air Force. pp. 267–287. http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA440094&Location=U2&doc=GetTRDoc.pdf
- Pither, Tony (1998). The Boeing 707 720 and C-135. Air-Britain (Historians). ISBN 0-85130-236-X.
- Tyack, Bill "Maritime Patrol in the Piston Engine Era" Royal Air Force Historical Society Journal 33, 2005 ISSN 1361-4231.
- Wilson, Stewart (1998). Boeing 707, Douglas DC-8, and Vickers VC-10. Fyshwick, Australia: Aerospace Publications. ISBN 1-875671-36-6.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Airborne early warning aircraft.|
- AWACS and JSTARS
- NATO AWACS-Spotter Geilenkirchen website
- FAS.org E-3 Sentry information
- Boeing AWACS website
- Airborne Early Warning Association website
- TU-126 MOSS AWACS – history of development- in Russian
- Airborne radar "Gneis-2" – in Russian
- "Electronic Weapons: AWACS Then And Forever". strategypage.com.