The U.S. Airborne Strategic Command, Control, and Communications Program Office have purchased a retired Royal Air Force E-3D for $15 million to be used as an E-6B Mercury pilot training aircraft.

The E-3D is an airborne early warning and control system, commonly known as AWACs or AEW&C, the UK is switching to E-7 Wedgetails. You can read more about this here.

British E-3D Sentry completes last mission before retirement

The programme office say here that they had been looking to acquire a dedicated training aircraft for the fleet to take the strain off using the current mission-capable E-6 aircraft.

“Since the E-6’s inception over three decades ago, the Navy has looked for ways to train pilots and keep them up to date on the airframe. Those options have included leasing several different commercial aircraft as well as using the mission-capable aircraft.”

They say that the aircraft will help reduce an estimated 600 flight hours and 2,400 landings/cycles per year from the E-6 mission aircraft.

“The training flights expose mission aircraft to significant wear-and-tear and impact their readiness and availability,” said Capt. Adam Scott, PMA-271 program manager.

“This is a great chance to work with the United Kingdom and bring a much-needed aircraft to the fleet.”

Both the E-3 and E-6 are militarised versions of the Boeing 707.

What is the E-6B Mercury?

The U.S. describe it as a “communications relay and strategic airborne command post aircraft. Provides survivable, reliable, and endurable airborne command, control, and communications between the National Command Authority and U.S. strategic and non-strategic forces. Two squadrons, the “Ironmen” of VQ-3 and the “Shadows” of VQ-4 deploy more than 20 aircrews from Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. to meet these requirements.”

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andy
andy
2 months ago

nice it’s going to a good home, it’s just a shame that once again we are getting rid of an asset before the new ones arrive which is becoming a normal way of doing things, and yes I do know money has a lot do with it, but ever since the Berlin wall has come down, defence has always been on the back foot, while our potential enemies are teaching kids how to use weapons etc, ours are no longer taught things like D day or the Battle of Britain…

Andrew
Andrew
2 months ago
Reply to  andy

It was an awful lot simpler in the 80’s….. big bad Soviets/Warsaw Pact poised to invade Western Germany, easy identifiable threat, easier to justify defence expenditure….

Jonny
Jonny
2 months ago
Reply to  andy

D day and the battle of Britain are both on the syllabus

Tony Smith
Tony Smith
2 months ago
Reply to  Jonny

World War Two was always a very popular, and usually well-taught, topic in primary schools, the government decided not to include it as a compulsory topic in the National Curriculum which came into effect in August 2014.

Tony Smith
Tony Smith
2 months ago
Reply to  Tony Smith

I don’t know if this has changed recently though.

andy
andy
2 months ago
Reply to  Tony Smith

well both my niece and nephew one is 10 one is 12 both asked me what they were, which i found annoying as it is part of world history, I was lucky when I turned 15 the history class took us to aromanches, where we saw the remains of the mulberry harbour, but more interesting was a plate on one of them saying built in Sunderland Tyne and Wear

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
2 months ago
Reply to  andy

remains of the mulberry harbour, but more interesting was a plate on one of them saying built in Sunderland Tyne and Wear”

That’s interesting, as my Grandad was one of the engineers who built them. He never talked in detail about what he did to us grandkids though. My Nanny told me. 

Herodotus
2 months ago
Reply to  Jonny

Yes, absolutely!

David Steeper
David Steeper
2 months ago
Reply to  AlexS

Yep Happy days.  😀 

John Clark
John Clark
2 months ago
Reply to  AlexS

That’s a very welcome bit of news Alex! Tempest has some cash behind it now to start detailed digital design….

Lordtemplar
Lordtemplar
2 months ago
Reply to  AlexS

Yeah, but that is total investment until 2035. Right now it will be a mere 20m a year for the next few years.
At least they are starting to sign cheques, but it isnt that much for such a program. But it’s better than nothing. Hopefully it will increase in the future.

Gary
Gary
2 months ago

I see looking at adsbexchange.com there has been a NATO E3CF circling out in the north sea all day.

simon alexander
simon alexander
2 months ago
Reply to  Gary

off topic, a light plane currently flying over london, im thinking its collecting data. interested to know what kind of info they can obtain i assume for met police or other services.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
2 months ago

Any idea what its reg is?

Is it coming from Northolt or Farnborough?

Michael
Michael
1 month ago

I think it came from Australia, an E3 was flown to Lake Charles, LA months ago. Northrop Grumman has a huge operation at the airport where they convert planes JSTARS, and Poseidon’s. I saw an Austrian E3 on the ramp it set for a while then towed to one of the hangers.

Michael
Michael
1 month ago

ZH104 from the Australian Air Force. it’s in Lake Charles, LA for a while. The picture from the article was taken in Lake Charles.

Simon m
Simon m
2 months ago

So these aircraft were sold as a major critical capability – vital to the defence of the UK. Now what the capability is not required? & We can gap it? How on earth can 3 E7s be enough only takes 1 to go down & that costs full 24hr coverage? We’re told E3 airframes are knackered then go to the US rumours were R1 went to US. Apparently we now have an ISTAR wing! Yet same time removing massive number of assets. 9 P8 can not replace R1 & other assets when they have a primary mission. How can the… Read more »

John Clark
John Clark
2 months ago
Reply to  Simon m

Expect a big reveal and contracts for unmanned AEW systems in Defence Review 2025 for service from 2030.

Carrier based and Land, perhaps even the same airframe ??

I don’t expect the E7’s to have a particularly long service life with the RAF, flogged off by 2035 would be my guess…

Steve
Steve
2 months ago
Reply to  John Clark

Zero chance an asset will be announced in 2025 and in service 5 years later, unless it’s an off the shelf one, which doesn’t exist today. More likely announced development in 2025, with a tender process, with firm order paced in 2035 for delivery in 2040s.

Steve
Steve
2 months ago
Reply to  John Clark

Additionally the reason AWACS etc are so big is physics. You just get a powerful enough radar to cover large areas into a small device and without large coverage it would be useless for defending the UK. Crowsnest can be smaller, because it’s only really defending a small area in the carrier and not large parts of the landmass.

John Clark
John Clark
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Perhaps so Steve …. However, we are seeing a huge (promised at least) acceleration in design and fielding, using new technologies, from AI assisted design, to automated manufacturing and 3D printing for LANCA and Tempest. Re the radar, interesting point, they are also promising a massive increase in processing capacity and power with the Tempest radar, so if the same system back end was used, coupled to a large dorsal mounted AESA on a a large ‘ish’ UCAS , then who knows what’s possible 15 years from now. We can only hope the asthmatic snails pace of current projects like… Read more »

Steve
Steve
2 months ago
Reply to  John Clark

I’m no radar expert, but my theory is tempests radar just needs to defend the jet itself so point defence, whilst AWACS replacement needs to defend a wide area. As such I would assume AWACS radar to detection range is significantly wider. Putting aside the old AWACS were using out dated radar tech but looking at the wedgetails. I assume multiple drones could cover the space bit then you start losing any cost savings, since they won’t be super cheap.

Last edited 2 months ago by Steve
Karl
Karl
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve

I spoke to some aircrew last year. Their line of thinking is that AWAC and tankers are more vulnerable than ever because of long range AAM’s. They sited Mig 30 updates as the root, also newer long range and mobile SAM systems. As for drone replacement for AWAC? Same problem if its going to sit high throwing radar waves out like confetti. One even suggested for the north Atlantic the chain of ground radars from Norway, UK and Iceland is actually the best detection there is. The amount of energy needed for any meaningful coverage by drone means it would… Read more »

Steve
Steve
2 months ago
Reply to  Karl

Interesting.

My thought is ground bast radar coverage is not a good idea, since it’s stationary and very easy for the enemy to take out through a surprise attack, such as a special forces mission and large numbers would be impossible to defend.

To me the best option would be to go bigger, make the AWACS replacement have a radar range that can far exceed any jets and therefore standoff missiles are not a risk as the incoming jets can be dealt with long before they can launch against the platform.

Daveyb
Daveyb
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve

It is technically feasible to house a very long range radar such as the L-band Thales Smart-L MM on an “aircraft” powering it may be a problem though! This radar has tracked a ballistic missile launch from the South Uist to its radar horizon from its factory in Holland, a distance of over 1500km. If this radar was placed on an “aircraft” operating above 30,000ft how far would it see? But what kind of aircraft could house such a radar? Would it be mounted as a fixed panel or rotated on a mechanical mount? Well the older SMART-L PESA radar… Read more »

the_marquis
the_marquis
2 months ago
Reply to  Daveyb

Hi Daveyb, I get the feeling you have a bit of a soft spot for the old Airlander! Do you have shares in the company or something? 😉 i’ve been following them for a long time, and while I’ve always liked the concept, the more time passes, the less convinced i am that the company actually wants to take it to production, as they just keep trotting out prototypes and new ideas for what to use it for… i think the two issues with it for military purposes are the sheer size of it, which presents challenges for basing, etc.… Read more »

DaveyB
DaveyB
2 months ago
Reply to  the_marquis

I am not confident at the moment in buying shares in the company. Though that could change, if they actually get one in production and get a buyer. Back in the 1950’s the US Navy used N-class airships with a basic radar set for AEW. They actually performed really well. The major problem though was the could not get above 20,000ft and usually flew much lower than 15,000ft. Compared to the aircraft of the day they were seriously outclassed in altitude. However they could be on station for days, as they used the light carriers as pitstops for replenishment and… Read more »

the_marquis
the_marquis
2 months ago
Reply to  DaveyB

Yeah agreed. I think it’s prob best for the civil market, experiential tourism, etc. river cruises, aerial safaris and the like. Accompanying the fleet would be great if it could manage RAS, and could handle/avoid extreme weather conditions. But otherwise, for land based aircraft I would imagine a UAVs with decent medium-high altitude performance is more likely. Even then, as I think you’ve said elsewhere, previously the difficulty with this would be the bandwidth requirements if you’re not carrying the WSOs on board, sending all the data back to earth. Not sure if advances in tech has made this feasible… Read more »

Daveyb
Daveyb
2 months ago
Reply to  Karl

No, it won’t work. Sure you can see aircraft at medium to high altitudes, but you still won’t for low altitudes. The Flat Earthers have got this wrong, the Earth’s curvature means a radar that can properly discern a target will always have a radar dead zone behind the horizon. This is the primary reason we have AEW aircraft. Its is to fill in this dead zone area, so there can’t be any low level sneak attacks. Over the horizon radars can only be used to say there’s something out there, they can not give you an exact number or… Read more »

John Clark
John Clark
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve

The cost issue is interesting one. Assuming my theorised AEW Drone can leverage Tempest radar back end technology, energy generation, coupled with a large ventral array and be available in numbers, coupled with reduced cost of manufacturing ( jury’s still out on that one), then it’s possibly doable….. To me, the early end of crows nest (seemingly Guaranteeing a Carrier AEW Drone), lets you know that such a drone is already in development, just not in the public arena. The fact that the E7 went from 5 to 3 certainly, to me anyway, shows the AEW requirements for both land… Read more »

Daveyb
Daveyb
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve

The Tempest will probably get Captor-E radar 2+ to begin with. But it will be getting a new next generation radar. The proposed and in-development next generation of radars take active electronic phased arrays (AESA) to the next level. At the moment they operate within a singular frequency band, e.g. X-band. But X-band covers a range of frequencies from 8 to 12 GHz. The majority of radars will only operate over a narrow range of these frequencies say from 10 to 11.5GHz within the band. The next push is to broaden the range of operating frequencies to incorporate the whole… Read more »

John Clark
John Clark
2 months ago
Reply to  Daveyb

Blimey Davey, I always feel like I need to lay in a darkened room with a cold compress after reading your articles … Excellent reply, read it twice. So do you think a drone based AEW, using the technology you describe, could be viable in 10-15 years?

DaveyB
DaveyB
2 months ago
Reply to  John Clark

Cheers. On the question of AEW UAVs, yes, definitely. The BAe Mantis, European MALE RPAS and the Leonardo (Piaggio) P1HH are a set of medium altitude long endurance twin engined drones. Though only the P1HH is near the size for a decent long range lower frequency radar. Any of these would be suitable for the Leonardo Osprey AESA radar with a multiple array fit giving a 360 degree field of view. We would still need a larger unmanned aircraft to house something like Saab’s Erieye radar. Converting a 2nd hand Bombardier business jet to an unmanned aircraft is perfectly doable… Read more »

dan
dan
2 months ago
Reply to  John Clark

AEW drones are a LONG way off. They require a lot of electrical power, computer systems, ect so have to be big. Northrop just offered to develop an AEW version of the Global Hawk and the USN said no thanks.

Fedaykin
Fedaykin
2 months ago
Reply to  Simon m

“How on earth can 3 E7s be enough only takes 1 to go down & that costs full 24hr coverage?” I am not happy that the buy for E7 was reduced to 3 but primarily as it will increase wear on the fleet increasing maintenance costs and giving a shorter service life. As for why it is possible to operate with just 3 whilst still providing 24/7 coverage it should be noted that we are in a different situation now then when it was the cold war. Back during the cold war a Soviet aircraft could appear in our ADIZ… Read more »

Andrew Thorne
Andrew Thorne
2 months ago

I think it’s logical to remove assets that are now obsolete but planning should be made well in advance for modern future proof assets. We need to think much more carefully about our current military doctrine and the role of UAVs for the RAF and UUVs for the Royal Navy etc. we should also think about the modernization of our army and its equipment (Ajax, Challenger 2 etc) as I think it really hasn’t understood fully the role of modern technology. We need a ground up re-think of our armed services as well as our industrial capacity and whether it… Read more »

John Clark
John Clark
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Thorne

I couldn’t agree more Andrew, so much of the top brass are still busy planning for yesterdays wars and looking backwards, more concerned with preserving regimental cap badges, than modernising to face the threats of today

They are however slowly being dragged, kicking and screaming into the 21 Century…..

WillDbeest
WillDbeest
1 month ago

Better than smashing it to bits I suppose