Options for the future delivery of the UK’s Airborne Warning and Control capability are being explored, with the focus now on replacing the E-3D Sentry fleet.

We understand that upgrades however are reportedly considered to be expensive. According to Janes here, maintenance is becoming increasingly costly and replacing them instead might be the most cost-effective option.

 

Guto Bebb, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, recently said:

“No decision has been made with regard to the future delivery of the UK’s Airborne Warning and Control capabilities, although a range of options are being explored.”

Some industry commentators are also arguing for a new aircraft type altogether. The large sums of money allocated to upgrading the E-3D fleet should be used to purchase a more advanced off-the-shelf aircraft, a defence analyst has argued. Justin Bronk, Research Fellow, Airpower and Technology, outlines options for replacing the E-3 fleet in his paper ‘The Future of Air C2 and AEW: E-3 Sentry, Threat Technologies and Future Replacement Options’:

“The RAF’s E-3Ds need a £2-billion CSP both to bring them to rough parity with current US and French standards by the mid-2020s and to stretch the fleet out to 2035 in the process. However, the E-3, even in modernised form, is no longer a cutting-edge ABM&S system in a world where proliferating long-range missile systems and emerging non-Western low-observable fighters can force it to stay hundreds of kilometres from contested airspace, placing a higher premium on BLOS communications capacity rather than onboard sensors.

Even when it is able to operate closer to the battlespace, the AN/APY-1/2 mechanically scanned radar array common to all E-3s has significant inherent limitations in terms of its ability to detect low-observable, very slow moving and hypersonic threats, unlike more modern AESA-equipped AWACS types already in service with the US Navy and various air forces around the world. An AESA-equipped ABM&S platform with improved communications node capabilities, based on a commercial-derivative airframe, seems a logical alternative option which could provide the RAF with a more capable and efficient alternative to extending the life of the E-3D over the next 20 years.

Such an approach would incur programmatic risk and acquisition and integration costs, but the MoD should examine and weigh these against the expensive work required to extend the E-3D with a view to ensuring the RAF has the best capability possible for the next two decades.”

The US designed E-3D Sentry AEW.Mk 1 is an airborne early warning (AEW) and command and control aircraft in British service, but what does that mean?

The Sentry monitors airspace to provide threat detection of adversary aircraft and situational awareness on friendly assets.

Information gathered by the Northrop Grumman APY-2 radar is processed by the mission crew and disseminated via a variety of data links and communication systems. Sentry also has the capability to detect ships, relaying information to maritime aircraft or allied vessels for further investigation. Its electronic support measures equipment enables the E-3D to gather emissions from other radar systems and emitters, enhancing the crew’s understanding of the environment in which it is operating.

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[…] post Royal Air Force begin exploring options to replace E-3D Sentry fleet appeared first on UK Defence […]

Is the cost factored within the equipment budget? If not, how can we get anything new with it already so overstretched?

Helions

The Sentry has done sterling work – truly an unsung hero of the endless series of military ventures and crisii of the last 30 years. However, as the article notes, it’s reached an inflection point where even upgrading it isn’t going to adequately bring it up to the standards we need today. Time for a replacement – this would be a great opportunity for a joint development among the allies. The AESA radar already exists, it just has to be put on a modern airframe. The 707 has reached its limits. The USAF is thinking a stretch 737 ala Poseidon… Read more »

Jonathan

I understood the point of 5th generation networked fighters is that you don’t have the same level of need for theses large platforms. I thought that in a battle space full of low observability fifth generation fighters optimised for BVR engagements they will essentially be great big high value targets with no ability to hide.

Callum

Not having the same level of need isn’t the same as not needing them at all. Having your fighters all networked together is great, but in a large scale air operation (more along the lines of the Gulf War than recent punitive strikes in Syria and such) its still far more efficient for that information to be relayed to a command platform, collated and analysed by the crew on board, and have them coordinate the mission. It lets the pilots concentrate on the task at hand instead of needing to keep one eye open for incoming or evolving threats.

Barry Larking

Placing highly trained personnel in a plane, any plane, may not be the way forward. Flight time to area and return to base (any base) is a factor in maintaining peak performance among crew in routine situations; in very stressful circumstances operational effectiveness must be an issue. A drone based operation with redundancy might be a system whose time has come. A much larger set of operators and controllers housed almost anywhere, receiving and widely handing off data via secure satellites with relief rates impossible in a tube flying at 40,000 feet. I am certain something like this will come… Read more »

David E Flandry

Right! You could use the Voyager aircraft(forget which Airbus # it is) as a sort of mother ship with full avionics, capabilities, but each carrying several drones that could cover areas in more detail and staying out of high threat areas.

Julian

Bandwidth and latency? I’m not saying those are issues, just throwing them out as suggestions of two things that might be. In particular on latency, how real-time does the view of the battlespace created need to be that is relayed to the force elements that need it? Might the delays introduced by getting the sensor data to remote operators and then those remote operators transmitting whatever conclusions they want to convey back into the battlespace be an issue? Again for clarity – this is me asking questions not me saying that the idea is flawed. If unmanned was viable, and… Read more »

Barry Larking

Thank you David and Julian. I have no dog in this fight; you could creep up on me in a tank frankly, but I recall from just after the Second World War how stunned we were to discover what British and Commonwealth scientists and engineers had come up with inside six years. This makes me wonder if we aren’t just going with the flow rather than trying something different. I don’t think Russia is the conventional threat here either. All the bluster Tsar has achieved is Swedish re-armament and concentrated minds in governments from The North Cape to the Black… Read more »

Jack

I’m sure the US will come up with the best available option to replace E3. Let them develop and build it then buy it off the shelf. Simples!

Steve10

E7 Wedgetail

tman

Yep. It confounds me that the commentators here continue to ignore the very obvious off-the-shelf E-7 option. It’s a modern 737 variant with a modern AESA radar. It’s operational and all the development has been paid for. The RAAF has sunk serious cash into upgrades and will continue to do so well into the future which the RAF could draw directly from without investing anything. Being a modern system it’s highly software centred and so software upgradable which drastically lowers the cost of adding functionality. It combines AEW&C, ELINT and even maritime surface search with more to be added in… Read more »

Steve10

Yay! (thanks)

Ajsw6

absolutely, hasn’t one of the defence ministers been out and had flight on it?

Fedaykin

E7 is an option but it wasn’t an entirely happy program and even now I believe the radar is not performing as well as promised. Noise has been good more recently so may be they have got past the initial teething problems.

It is worth keeping an eye on what the US plans to do.

Andy G

Based on the same 737 platform as P8.

Steve10

Indeed and much better suited to working with F35

Andy

I agree, the boeing E3 is the best replacement aircraft, plus it will have commonality withecboeing P8 already on order.

Helions

“OH Ye of great faith…”

😀

Pacman27

£2bn CSP that doesn’t even make it fit for purpose.

If ever there was a story that provides a clear example fo why the MOD is terrible at managing its budget this is it.

Surely we can buy 8 replacement aircraft for £2bn – or has everything moved on and these can be replaced with 20 more F35’s (if they really are as good as everyone is saying) at the whole electronic jamming, situational awareness and communications may just be what we need and invest in MADL.

Or how about another role for Taranis/Magma.

bluesilver

magma is basically a shitty toy built by some professors and students.
SAAB have an off the shelf solution to this problem, I would expect us to go for it if we’re being financially sensible about things. This is the MOD however…

Andy G

Who says the MOD planned this badly?
Its obviouly time to upgrade, anyone can see that.

Just because they get a price for one option is not bad managemnt, its good managemnt and provides the data to make good judgements.

You will be saying how marvelous we are once we buy E7 from Australia soon.

Taranis does not exist and will never be a thing. For the amount of time it gets mentioned here you would think it was an actual option.

Pacman27

Taranis could be in service within 3 years if we put our back into it. It has had several flights is built using proven technology and seems to me the only thing stopping its progress is commitment. It gets mentioned a lot by me, because it is a potential solution to a lot of big ticket items and has real utility, and it is something Britain could do on its own and sell to others. 1. Bombers working alongside F35 2. E3-D replacement (with or without F35) 3. Carrier refuelling 4. Stealth reconnaissance The Scandinavians concentrate on key bits of… Read more »

Stephen G.

We definitely need to push ahead with Taranis so that our aerospace industry has at least one product of our own to export. There is no doubt in my mind we could do this IF the will is there.

Daniele Mandelli

Agree Stephen G and Pacman.

Andy G

No one is suggesting its a good deal. No-one is suggesting we do this. Its just a quote.

Why does it have to turn into another slagging match of our MOD.

If they didnt get an upgrade vs new price it would be shocking. This is how things get bought.

To turn this into MOD incompetance is just as bad as saying the Clyde is betrayed.

Pacman27

Andy

I agree and apologise, you are right of course. It is just a quote

Problem is for many of us these things have a bad habit of becoming a reality all too often.

My view is we need better fleet management and far less CSP which often turns out as sub optimal from a capability point of view and a drag on finances.

This is a different argument and the one I should have presented in the first place – I just dont like CSP as used by the MOD.

Martin

No point In developing something ourselves, it’s like MRA4 with no export potential, the US does not know what it wants to do and no way E3 will be any use in 2035.

Buying 5 or 6 E7 wedgtail’s is the solution, even the USAF loves the platform and it’s readily available, gives us a common airframe with P8 and future RC135 replacement.

Fedaykin

The E7 does not have a common Airframe with the P8a, the former uses a modified variant of the B737-700ER whilst the P8a uses the B737-800ERX as a starting point but is so heavily modified that it is arguably a unique sub variant. Even the fuselage skin of the P8a is thicker than a standard B737 variant to take account of the heavier stress it will be put under operating at low altitudes. The E7 is certainly a choice but we are in a world now where there are several viable alternatives so I would like to see some investigation… Read more »

david

Not saying your wrong but the picture of the E7 shows eyebrow windows, something the Nextgen 737 did not have as far as I know.

Fedaykin

Appears to be optional as some Wedgetail have them whilst others don’t.

John Clark

Absolutely, E7 is the way to go. Don’t bother throwing good money away on Sentry.

We should start low rare procurement of them soon.

Daniele Mandelli

These prices are nuts for upgrading old aircraft.

Surely OTS of whatever is out there is best.

Sceptical Richard

1. Let’s stop blaming MoD procurement for everything. It’s the Capability and Planning Air Marshals in the RAF that determine procurement priorities. 2. UAV based solutions are not ready and will not be ready for many years. 3. Wedgetail is the obvious, no-brainier choice – let’s do it! 4. F-35 requires a C2 node to maximise the exploitation of its own electronic collect capabilities and relay that back to base via BLOS links – both Wedgetail and Voyager are obvious candidate platforms for this. 5. In future, as UAV options become available, these can be incrementally added to the mix… Read more »

Pacman27

Sounds like a plan

Julian

Clearly totally apples and oranges but I can’t resist observing, given that you (Andy) bought up P-8A, that the UK paid £2bn to get 9 P-8As and this article quotes “The RAF’s E-3Ds need a £2-billion CSP both to bring them to rough parity with current US and French standards”. No conclusion being drawn here, there is none, just a rather nice coincidental symmetry in the numbers. The most recent actual pricing I could find for Wedgetail is the South Korea order for four at $1.71bn in 2012 (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-arms-korea-boeing/south-korea-picks-boeing-for-surveillance-planes-idUSSEO35315920061108). That would be about £320m a plane at current exchange rates… Read more »

Fedaykin

I highly doubt that we could resale the E-3D on except for spares, they are significantly behind the curve when compared to US, French, Saudi and NATO examples. Any buyer would have to spend billions bringing them up to spec, why bother when there are affordable brand new AEW&C types out there not based on a first generation jet airliner. They were delivered into service as a unique sub variant and have not received Block 30/35 let alone Block 40/45, the Northrop Grumman servicing agreement held them in a unique standard. CSP to bring them up to something like Block… Read more »

Steve

How do the e-3d compare with wedgetail?

I read further up that the wedgetail was selected for certain roles, which would indicate that it has some advantages, but that doesn’t mean that it is overall better.

I ask because the wedgetail appears to have a significantly smaller radar, whilst i realise radar tech has advanced, the basics of radio waves haven’t changed and larger is generally better for picking up waves at distance.

So is it a straight upgrade or just brings some advantages at expense of others?

Sceptical Richard

Steve, don’t know exact comparison data. But at least it’s available, modern, software upgradable, reliable and maintainable.

Steve

None of these mean for sure that it is better than our current in service fleet. More modern does not always mean more capable, although i accept it generally does.

TH

The French always do well on a lesser budget. Their armed forces are larger and better equipped.

Pacman27

I agree TH And people cant say their kit is rubbish as they have all the main pieces. 8×8 Strike Brigades Nuclear fleet (full autonomy) Carrier Escorts LeClerc tanks Mistrals Special Forces And rafael 250k personnel Can’t really argue the have quality, breadth and depth where they believe they need it and joined up industry and government that is successful at exporting. This can be compared with our own confused, elongated and disfunctional system where even though we have great intellectual property and engineering skills we are unable to bring to market cost effectively. Maybe a partnership with the Japanese… Read more »

Steve

What’s a Rafael ?

Liam

What about the SAAB Swordfish? It’s advertised as doing maritime surveillance too.

Sceptical Richard

Liam, I’ve already posted before one option offered by SAAB and Airbus based on two Erieye aerials dorsally mounted on Voyagers. Rolls Royce looked at additional power generation requirements. The ‘spare’ Voyager frames could have been used and the aircraft could have retained its AAR capability intact. Certain RAF seniors were interested but finally we were told that they would look to upgrade E-3D instead (this at the same time as Capability people in the RAF were already telling me that updating AWACS was not cost-effective). I got the feeling though, that the RAF were not convinced by the Erieye… Read more »

Liam

Thanks. Super explanation.

Pacman27

SR – great point and really good explanation. This is right up my street – a great asset that can do several things at once. Need fuel whilst its loitering in the battle space tick.. need battle space information whilst its loitering as a petrol station tick. Need to take a load of troops or VIP’s somewhere tick. And we have them… better to have something great that we use all the time than something absolutely perfect but is niche. Given where we are with UAV’s and F35’s I think this is the solution to go for, I have said… Read more »

Pacman27

Actually with the money saved we could buy more P8’s and maintain sentinel etc for longer.

Sceptical Richard

Pacman, you’re right. And the Aussies are yet again ahead of the game on this. Not only did they order their KC-30s with ARBS, but they’ve got a funded programme to eventually turn it into a C2 platform as well. But while very attractive to do so, I think one must resist the temptation of trying to make a Swiss Army knife out of a single platform. I think the C2 route for Voyager is a no brainier. But the cost and risks must be balanced against buying something off the shelf where all the complex integration and OT&E work… Read more »

Martin

The main issue with using the “spare voayagers” is that there are none and we don’t own them. I can imagine the air tanker consortium charging a fortune for this and then they can’t rent the spares out to Thompson’s any more.

Wegetail is a very viable option we should just jump onboard, our beudgets are too small now to develop bespoke aircraft and there has never been much benefit in building bespoke platforms anyway, little export potential, little technology uplift and poor interoperability with allies.

Sceptical Richard

Martin, you are right on Wedgetail, wrong on Voyager. There are four spare aircraft. The fifth leased to Thomson can be brought back into service fairly rapidly. Ownership is not an issue. The banks will let you do what you want with them so long as HMG stands behind the deal. Airtanker is not a charity, but I challenge anyone in the private or public sector to deliver the Voyager operation at a cheaper overall cost to the British taxpayer. The only element up for debate is that the Treasury can borrow the money more cheaply than the private sector… Read more »

Steve

It is strange that a blog with a focus on defence, keeps dropping back to a debate on UK industry and protecting UK jobs. Spending extra to top up an manufacturing industry that can not support itself, goes against the needs of defense. You can’t have it both way, when you have x to spend, you either spend it on less home grown items and top up the industry or you spend it on massively cheaper foreign items by joining much bigger orders (US, Japan, Europe if they can agree on anything, even China) and gain economy of scale. If… Read more »

Pacman27

Steve You have fallen into a common trap, unfortunately war is attritional by nature and the winners are often those with most resources or the one that comes up with a game changer first (what would have happened if the Nazi’s had come up with the nuclear weapon first?) The UK has a proud heritage of punching above its weight primarily through innovation and our industry and whilst times have changed, we still need our industry to allow us to maintain knowledge and innovation and be able to ramp up if required. I am a big advocate of joining large… Read more »

Stephen G.

Agree with pacman, no one is saying we should build every last thing for ourselves, but we don’t want to be buying every single last thing off foreign countries either, that’s what third world countries do. Our British scientists inventors and engineers are some of the very finest in the World, other countries would give their left ear for them, we have to have at least some British industries so we can utilize our undoubted genius and innovation in at least some fields. Like pacman says as an island we should invest in shipbuilding and we should also push ahead… Read more »

Branaboy

I think Saab system in Japanese P1 platform is best. P1 with RR engines, I believe, is a better airframe for AWACS, ELINT and ASW than B737NG airframe. P1 is a more versatile and newer airframe. Choice will also allow for UK industry re-entry into airframe assembly and modification business. Also create less dependency on USA primes.

sceptical Richard

History teaches us that defence is only as good as the strength of your economy and industrial capability. You neglect any one of these and you put your defence capability at risk. It’s a balance. Certain industrial capabilities have to be retained to retain defence capability and sovereignty, while things such as RFAs can be manufactured abroad, if that is the most cost effective solution, without endangering the country’s vital defence base.

Expat

I’m not a fan of blank cheques for industry, I think type 31 is going the right way but the UK defence industry does have a habit of being self serving. If you take the case of the MRA4, it should never have been based on the Nimrod airframe. We had a very successful regional jet in production that was crying out to be upgraded, if the UK had been sensible it should have stretched, re-winged and re-engined (4 down to 2) the BAe 146. But BAe themselves could not see the value in the commercial sector for the aircraft.… Read more »

John Clark

Interesting point Expat … The 146 certainly had tremendous untapped potential., A rear ramp military variant went unbuilt (huge mistake) and this could well have served the basis for an MPA.

However, again Keep it simple stupid and order the wedge tail….

DaveyB

The E3D’s radar is of a particularly old design. The AN/APY-2 is a relatively low frequency band radar that uses a Passive Electronically Scanned Array. This means it is not as frequency agile as say a Active Electronically Scanned Array is. This is because the array modules are not true transmitter modules but phase changers i.e. they delay the transmission timing to alter the phase and thus the direction of the beam, it also has a relatively slow sweep rate. The radar can still be classed as an analogue radar, but has been updated with more modern digital processing. However,… Read more »

tman

“the Wedgetail fitted to a modified Boeing 737. This uses a fully digital AESA radar with good frequency agility. However, like Saab’s Erieye has a forward and aft 60 dead zone dead zone which with software enhancement can reduce to down to 45 degrees. This will require the aircraft to fly abreast of the “expected” threat area thus allowing it to be sneaked up on from the flanks. This is probably one of the reasons why the RAF are not in favour of these systems.” False… “The 10.8 m long by 3.4 m high antenna assembly incorporates 7.3 m long… Read more »

Daveyb

Hmm, I stand corrected. Does the MESA radar only use the S band or can it transmit at a higher frequency?

Julian

Interesting to see here (http://www.contactairlandandsea.com/2015/06/22/when-the-shit-got-real-for-australias-wedgetail/) that for the Australian deal “In the end, six were acquired. The first two Wedgetails were assembled and tested in the USA with the final four assembled by Boeing in Australia”. With quite a few of you experts saying Wedgetail is the way to go on both technical (it’s good) and practical (don’t reinvent the wheel) grounds, the fact that the Australians negotiated a deal with 4 built on home soil is interesting. Is that practical were the UK to go for Wedgetail? If yes then it would be a nice added sweetener. On the… Read more »

[…] recently reported that options for the future delivery of the UK’s Airborne Warning and Control capability are […]

[…] recently reported that options for the future delivery of the UK’s Airborne Warning and Control capability are […]

[…] recently reported that options for the future delivery of the UK’s Airborne Warning and Control capability are […]

[…] recently reported that options for the future delivery of the UK’s Airborne Warning and Control capability are […]