The government of France has signed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance with the U.S. government signifying their intent to purchase Northrop Grumman Corporation’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.

The LOA allows the U.S. Navy to begin contracting activities with Northrop Grumman for production of E-2D airborne command and control aircraft. The signed LOA secures the sale that will include three E-2D aircraft, nonrecurring engineering, spares, repairs and support equipment, training and follow-on support, within the congressional approval funding limit.

The anticipated contract award will be in 2022 with aircraft delivery to France in 2028 at the latest.

“The procurement of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye will provide France a generational leap in capability for unparalleled situational awareness for their air defense fleets,” said Janice Zilch, vice president, manned airborne surveillance programs, Northrop Grumman.

“We have a long standing relationship with France as it transitions to E-2D’s from a two-decade legacy of E-2C aircraft.”

The French Navy has been operating the E-2C Hawkeye since 1998 and is the only country other than the United States to operate its E-2 Hawkeyes from an aircraft carrier. This capability enables interoperability exercises that support Hawkeyes from each other’s carrier flight decks.

With the U.S. Navy’s fleet transition to E-2D squadrons, the French Navy intends to procure three E-2D aircraft.

Boeing say:

“The E-2D is the U.S. Navy’s premier airborne command and control aircraft for all targets and all environments. It delivers advanced radar capability for unmatched detection and tracking. Additionally, it provides 360 degree simultaneous air and maritime surveillance, enabling nations to protect sea lanes, monitor coastlines and support civilian emergency coordination operations. The E-2D is a force multiplier for interoperability, reciprocal information sharing and commonality across the battle force.”

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Morning all. And this is what having cats and traps on a carrier will get you… flexible options. Can anyone tell me how much of a capability difference there is between the E2-D and the Merlin Crowsnest that we’ll be deploying? I’m hoping that technology will improve, get smaller and smaller to allow STOVL (maybe pilotless) aircraft that can do the equivalent of these for airborne situational awareness on the QE class. Another ‘fantasy-ask’ of mine is a STOVL tanker for air to air refueling. That would be one handy asset for the relatively short range of the F35b Cheers… Read more »

John Hampson

A tiltrotor aircraft may be a compromise.


The more astute comparison may be, would you rather have all the bells and whistles like cats & traps, E3 & nuclear powered CDG – available 50% of the time (maybe less) or what 2 x QEC, Crowsnet & F35B offer available 100% of the time?

Levi Goldsteinberg

Not to mention the French Navy budget also necessitates that they have piss poor logistics, small submarines and ageing front line aircraft

Paul C

Agreed, and they also do not have 6 modern AAW destroyers.

David Flandry

Their submarines are as virtually as large as the Trafalgar class. SSN. They have only six, compared to the RN seven. I agree with your comments about logistics. They have always have had poor logistics.


No they’re not. The Rubis Class are half the size of Trafalgar Class. By the time the Suffren Class actually goes operational (with 1 boat) the Trafalgar Class will be close to retirement of the last 2 boats after 30 years of service. The new Suffren Class are the same size as Trafalgar Class….just as we retire them. They are half the size of Astute Class…. The French also only have 4 operational SSN. Perle burnt during refit, Saphir is retired and will be cut up to be used to repair Perle. The Suffren is also not yet operational. You… Read more »


This is true. But the Carriers would still be better with ‘proper’ AWACs’. However, if France are to have an EMALS they will have to hope it is working properly in the next 10 years.

Paul C

Exactly what I was thinking. 2 x QE class offers a major advantage in terms of flexibility and availability.


Oh God, where to start? If we just begin with the Merlin helicopter versus the fixed wing turboprop Hawkeye. The Hawkeye has the Merlin beat on range and endurance, i.e. the time it can stay on patrol. In this race, speed is not important, operating altitude and range are. The E2D operates at 35,000ft,(10,600m) with a unrefuelled range of 2710km. The Merlin can operate at a height of 15,000ft (4575m) with a range of 833km. This gives the aircraft an endurance of up to 8 hours for the E2D and 5 hours for the Merlin. However, both aircraft can be… Read more »


Great post DB.


That was interesting. Thanks!

John Clark

Very thorough reply by Davey, interesting crash course on AEW! So much there to absorb, I stopped, made a coffee, put my feet up and carried on reading…… I suppose it is like comparing chalk and cheese. My observations, comparisons aside, while we have firmly established that a helo borne solution is less than optimal, is the Crowsnest system ‘good enough’ and an advance on the Searchwater 2000 Sea king based platform it replaced? The answer seems to be yes. The other advantage of Crowsnest/Merlin is that it can be deployed to other ships if needed, let’s not forget flexibility… Read more »


Nobody thinks E2 is inferior to Merlin Crowsnest. The question is whether Merlin Crownest is good enough within the network of systems that provide information, and in the context of cost, if that is a satisfactory decision. Given the RN has literally twice as many carriers as France, more and better helicopters, more and better AAW destroyers and a better carrier aircraft whose information gathering ability knocks spots off the Rafales – not to mention the wider systems supporting all this (ESM for instance and other surface, air and space assets) then the RN’s carrier defensive and offensive capability is… Read more »

Supportive Bloke

But, as you say, having AEW that is optimised for periscopes, small drones and missiles might actually be quite useful? You need to protect a fleet from all those things as well as aircraft. To my mind E2x is too optimised for aircraft and ship detection. How would it go against a small long range missile(s) targeted to kick out specific elements of a ship? No reason why they cannot be buddy launched from small LCS expendable craft. As we discussed, on another thread, the way to go with this is networked large drones. MOD & RN are seriously on… Read more »

Glass Half Full

This would be my take too on E2x. We should also consider how a LEO satellite network using 100’s of micro sats feeds into a fused sensor picture for EW, whether its carrier or land based. Such a network, in combination with modern data processing power, is going to be increasingly difficult for surface and perhaps even air assets to hide from. In this scenario, organic AEW probably stays in the X-band. We have a world leader in Leonardo Scotland developing such surveillance radars, as well as e-Captor, from which to develop a modern, advanced, AEW AESA solution. We include… Read more »


Great brief, DB, thank you. I understood about 75% of it (I think!). I was thinking, what contribution would an F35 – or maybe two F35s – make to the surveillance effort around a CSG? Clearly, their endurance would not be as long as an E2D and each F35 would not have a 360deg radar coverage, as does the E2D or Crowsnest. It has a powerful radar and communications fit. But how would it perform in an over-water tracking mode? Also, whilst the Merlin and E2D can be easily located and destroyed, the F35 is ‘stealthy’ and can evade and… Read more »

Andy A

Just what I was thinking, is crows nest and f35 together our cobbled together way of doing it on cheap and what capabilities would it give us and how will it compare?

Supportive Bloke

I wouldn’t describe fusing the available sensors together as “cobbling” it is actually the most desirable way to do it.

There are huge advantages in a fused picture.

First and foremost that it is very hard to spoof all the sensors all of the time operating at different frequencies and locations.

Second using different sensors at different locations, frequencies and altitudes makes it very hard for stealth aircraft to slip past.

The key issue in the display is to be clear about the bits that are NOT covered by the full range of sensors.

Meirion X

So ideally we need a AN/APG-81 radar looking down from a drone, to give a 360 degree view of the airspace? Also maybe a modified tilt-rotor aircraft with radar underneath fuselage?

Meirion X

The radar could be retractable into and out of the fuselage.


The F35’s APG81 radar is leagues ahead in capability. It is a 5th generation low probability of interception AESA radar, so unlike the Searchwater, it is very difficult to detect in the first place. It will also be very difficult to jam, as it has a very wide bandwidth and produces very small sidelobes due to the way AESA radars generate beam forming. This is perhaps its greatest weakness, the field of regard (field of view) is limited, which is due to the fixed panel array being limited to +/-60 degrees in azimuth and +/-45 degrees in the vertical. Unless… Read more »


Thanks for the response,DaveyB. When I said “…maybe two F35s…” I was thinking of two, or even three, flying a racetrack above the fleet at equally spaced distances, then at least one of them has ‘eyes on’ a specific area of the sky at all times. As one leaves a sector, the other flies into it and takes over. Dunno where I read this, but it’s novel – and effective.


It’s definitely doable, as I think it used to be done by the US F14s.


The Hawkeye only has an endurance of 8 hours when it takes off from land, its too heavy to take off from a carrier with that fuel load. When operating from a carrier its max endurance is 6 hours versus the 5 hours of the Merlin.

Merlin is also capable of being refueled in flight either from an A400M or while hovering next to the carrier.

Last edited 1 month ago by Watcherzero

Good points, but not so from the Ford class. The EMALS can launch them at full combat weight. At present, due to the stupid contractual agreement, we can’t use either the Herc’s or A400M for air to air refuelling. The A400M has only just be cleared for refuelling. It generates massive propwash behind the aircraft that causes severe turbulence for a following aircraft. It was found that they had to double the length of the drogues fuel hose to nearly 100m. Then the approaching aircraft could connect without too much buffeting. The hovering rotors running refuel has been used by… Read more »


Thank’s to buddy refueler. That’s why USN and MN love CATOBAR so much.
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Andy A

Great basic intro thanks, question is when we are needing the cash for many other things, (most of my navy friends seem to agree we are £ for £ best navy in world but all our forces lack offensive hardware and attempt to make it up with training and professionalism.
Would people agree if we go peer to peer we will have allied help and if not A peer foe we could better use cash elsewhere and crows nest will be good enough! Assuming it does what it says on the tin

Andy A

Could we make up difference short term following US navy idea of loitering drones, could also use on P8.
Also does anyone know if we use a general drone control station like the cousins? I know the special forces, Apache, f35 platforms and others are meant to b able to share drone control and sensor info, is this in use now? Is it something we can do? Sorry for my ignorance


Excellent reply. We’d be better off with E2D but Crowsnest is all we are given as e have no cats or traps. Hoping a tiltrotor will become developed that improves or carriers AEW, aerial tankering & COD..


Comparing the too is like comparing apples to oranges. The E-2D is way ahead in every category. The Merlin AEW in a high end fight will be very limited.

Robert Blay

Also way ahead in cost. Cost to buy, operating costs, maintenance cost, and they will only have 3 of them, so probably only 2 available at any one time.

Robert Blay

They are buying 3 aircraft, our Crownsnest system could be fitted to any of our 30+Merlins, so that’s an advantage straight away.


So many great comments guys! Thank you for all the details. It certainly sounds like there are a mix of pros and cons for both types of aircraft. But here’s the thing, QE can only operate the one type. CDG and other ‘cats and traps carriers’ can have the choice to operate both.
But on the flip side maintenance and upkeep of a QE class has its advantages over nuclear powered carriers.
Would be great to deploy with a friendly carrier, that would be a sight!
Have a good evening all
[email protected]

Robert Blay

We also have to remember the F35 is also i highly capable ISTAR capability in it’s own right, and a flight of say 4 F35’s networked together will cover huge amounts of airspace and such up vast amounts of data. Crownsnest will enhance that coverage. And can be deployed on-board other RN vessels. Cats and traps is all very TopGun, and nuclear sounds good in the brochures. But the QE class with the F35B & Crownsnest, is the best all round bang for our buck. Add in Merlin, Wildcat, Chinook & Apache and the next generation of UCAV’S. plus the… Read more »

Andy A

I agree I’m very proud of carrier capability and in couple years as everything comes together we will have best bang for our buck. We’re not super power. Only 2 things I think they missed out on is better mid layer defence for carrier either onboard or more missle capability on escorts. And anti ship capability, something my friend in fleet can’t believe is missing, I know can’t have it all but, ship rotor or wing mounted we have nothing!!!

Robert Blay

Spear 3 will have a antiship capability. The F35B will be able to carry 8 of these bad boys internally. And a intirm ASM will be purchased to replace Harpoon in the short term until a all new system arrives around 2030. Sea Viper and Sea Venom on-board our T45’s and T23’s are absolutely world beaters.

Lee Cook

Couldn’t the UK, in conjunction with Boeing, create a kind of V22 Osprey variant of the E2-D? Then the absence of Cats-n-Traps wouldn’t be so problematic. I imagine the speed and range advantages of the V-22 would be superior to the Crowsnest solution as envisaged?


This was explored (see EV-22) but deemed too costly. The V22 is already an expensive machine excluding the fact the UK would have to fund the entire program and integration themselves.


It would be interesting to know how the radars compare between these and crewsnest, especially around low level detection at range.

Supportive Bloke

That will never be disclosed: nor should it. However, we can speculate! CrowsNest has a shorter wavelength than E2x and will be better at detecting small objects. Lower wavelengths need proportionately smaller receiver areas for the same sensitivity. Honestly I think there will be less in it than you might think and for some things like finding sub periscopes and sea skimmers CrowsNest will be better at E2x will be better for finding high level large objects at 360 degrees at long range. The only material difference is operating height and therefore horizon. When it and/or it’s successors becomes drone… Read more »


Personally i think weaknesses in military tech should be known.

Most enemies that would have the potential to exploit, are going to have the info through espionage and that means its just the general public that doesn’t know.

Keeping stuff quiet, results in issues like we had in the falklands or iraq/afgan. The capability issues were known by the navy (or army in case of iraq/afgan) but if it had been public, there would have been way more pressure to get them fixed rather than just covering it up until people die when they can’t cover it up anymore.

David Barry

Man after my own heart; added to which it would stop polies milking defence for political gain and make it more neutral.

Supportive Bloke

Every system is a compromise and has strengths and weaknesses and some surprises when used in anger. Yes, a lot of the Falklands weaknesses were well enough known for fixes to be in developed so things like Sea Dart. Sea Wolf was just out of development. T22 with is pulsed dopler radar and Sea Wolf was actually very good. A lot of stuff didn’t work very well not was it ever going to. The emphasis was on keeping fleet numbers up. Which meant a lot of rubbish was kept floating at the expense of newer weapons fits. System architecture was… Read more »

Robert Blay

Great common sense reply Supportive Bloke 👍. I served on the Invincible class, and the culture around these vessels was still very much the mind set that they were just big destroyers that could carry a few Harriers. It wasn’t until later when they removed Sea Dart, and put more emphasis on strike with Harrier GR7/9 rather then just fleet defence with the FA2, that forced the culture change, and began using the vessel as they were intended, and moved to use the escorts as fleet defence, especially as T45 came into service. T45 transformed the RN’s air defence capability… Read more »

Meirion X

Like to see 4.5 inch gun on T45 removed and replaced with 57mm, which would allow silo to be extended a bit with CAMM ER?

Last edited 1 month ago by Meirion X

At “Poly”,(showing my age) I trained on a Sea Slug radar system. A system where you could actually see electricity in action.

Supportive Bloke

There were times when you could smell the electricity in action! The actual Sea Slug missile systems digital launch logic mostly consisted of micro switches and relay logic. The most problematic bit was getting the launch sled lined up for a reload. If one of the many micro switches was having a bad day, and more often than not they did, then MkI Bloke was required to manually open the anti flash doors. There were strict rules that nobody was supposed to be in the horizontal missile magazine when missiles were being moved. These were often ignored due to the… Read more »


Got quite a few belts off the racking, when changing some of the valves. It was the first time I’d seen St.Elmo’s Fire travelling down the waveguides, very bizarre as it used to pulse like it was breathing.

The Poly had the search and tracking radar . We used to lock on to aircraft flying in and out of Plymouth airport. Used to get a lot of complaints from Devonport though!

Ian M.

Used to do the same thing at 35 Base Wksp, Old Dalby (gone now) with the Rapier FSC, complaints from East Midlands airport and a very irate CO! 🙂


If US & French aircraft carriers cats and traps are damaged in combat or fail due to some problem.fixed wing aircraft can’t fly. UK Aircraft Carriers don’t have that problem & as with the ex RAF Harriers, if F35 need to get off the ship and to land ASAP ashore, they can land almost anywhere in dispersed sites to be refuelled & armed.Maybe UK should buy CMV-22Bs,EV-22 Proposed airborne early warning and control variant for UK fore QE Aircraft carriers.Although with US Marine F35 sq on board.US may insist on embarking a few US CMV-22Bs EV22 variant in future deployments?.… Read more »


About five years ago the USN did an experiment on the UUSS Ronald Reagan. This was to see if an F18 could take off from the deck with a catapult launch. They had done trials on land previously using a scale version of the deck at Pax River and found that it was possible. The trials aboard the carrier proved that the F18E/F could take off without the use of a catapult. The caveat is two fold. The F18 had to use the full length of the deck and it would only be able to carry a minimal war load… Read more »


The F35B cant land and takeoff from everywhere, it’s not the Harrier, you have a great chance to damage the plane in a “savage” landing, you need a prepared if not coated area to do it.
It’s one of the big difference with the Harrier.

Last edited 1 month ago by Hermes