by Darren D. Heusel
Tinker Public Affairs
11/20/2015 - TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The
long-awaited, highly anticipated deployment of the E-3 "Sentry"
Airborne Warning and Control System Block 40/45 aircraft is finally
over, with the arrival of the first upgraded weapon system to a combat
theater of operations.
The first E-3G arrived in Southwest Asia Nov. 18, marking the deployment
of the most comprehensive modification to the weapon system in its
38-year history. The changes improve communications, computer processing
power, threat tracking and other capabilities.
The $2.7 billion upgrades replace some hardware and software that dates
to the 1970s, signaling a game-changer to airborne surveillance and air
"This modification represents the most significant upgrade in the
35-plus year history of the E-3 and greatly enhances our crewmembers'
ability to execute the command and control mission, while providing a
building block for future upgrades," said Col. David Gaedecke, commander
of the 552nd Air Control Wing, which flies the E-3.
To date, nine of the 27 E-3s assigned to the 552nd ACW have received the
modification and have met their crew certification on the Block 40/45
"This is the initial combat deployment for the capability after numerous
exercises," Col. Gaedecke said. "Crews will be able to process tactical
information, providing combatant commanders with increased situational
The Block 40/45 provides operational and technological reliability,
maintainability, supportability, and integration of future technologies
and growth opportunities.
In addition, the new modifications automate previously manual functions
and improve the amount of data that E-3 aircrews can receive and share
with allied forces on missions such as counterdrug surveillance.
"This upgrade takes computing capability from 1970s technology to
current day," Gaedecke said. "Tied with the Deployable Ground System,
this allows both operators and intelligence personnel capabilities far
beyond [the older model] 30/35."
The upgrade has been a partnership between the 552nd ACW, the E-3 System
Program Offices at Hanscom AFB, Mass., and Tinker AFB, the Oklahoma
City Air Logistics Complex, which performs the modification, and the
Boeing Co., the prime contractor.
The E-3G model reached Initial Operating Capability on July 28, 2015,
and the OC-ALC went into full-rate production shortly thereafter, a
milestone marking the start of faster upgrades for the remainder of the
airborne surveillance and battle management fleet.
While the E-3Gs have been flown in counterdrug operations for U.S.
Southern Command and in homeland defense missions as part of Operation
Noble Eagle, they have yet to be flown in active combat missions until
Col. Gaedecke has previously laid out the plan for the aircraft to
participate in Red Flag in August and, if all went well, deploy the
weapon system in combat this fall.
"While our tactics, techniques and procedures employing this new
capability continue to be refined, exercises like Red Flag allowed crews
to gain experience with the system, which included capabilities
unavailable with 30/35," he said.
Known for its signature black-and-white rotating radar dome that sits on
top of the aircraft, the E-3 provides all-weather surveillance,
command, control and communications needed by commanders of U.S., NATO
and other allied air defense forces.
In support of air-to-ground operations, the Sentry can provide direct
information needed for interdiction, reconnaissance, airlift and
close-air support to friendly ground forces. It can also provide
information for commanders of air operations to gain and maintain
control of the air battle.
As an air defense system, E-3s can detect, identify and track airborne
enemy forces far from boundaries of the U.S. or NATO countries. It can
direct fighter-interceptor aircraft to enemy targets. The E-3 is
designed to respond quickly and effectively to a crisis and support
worldwide deployment operations.
With its mobility as an airborne warning and control system, the Sentry
has a greater chance of surviving in warfare than a fixed, ground-based
radar system. Among other things, the flight path can quickly be changed
according to mission and survival requirements.
The E-3 can also fly a mission profile for more than eight hours without
refueling. Its range and on-station time can be increased through
in-flight refueling and the use of an onboard crew rest area.
"Now that the E-3Gs have been deployed to a combat theater of operation,
AWACS will continue to be relevant in the battle space of the
future," Col. Gaedecke said.
"Deploying to the combat theater is the culmination of many hard hours,
learning and building standard operating procedures to execute the
mission in any combat or contingency environment," he said. "What the
E-3 brings to the fight is essential to our combat commanders, both in
the air and on the ground."
The 552nd ACW is home to the E-3, with 27 of the fleet's 31 AWACS aircraft being housed at Tinker.
The fleet continues on its upgrade timelines, with a rate of approximately five aircraft being modified each year.
The 552nd ACW will continue to operate out of their current forward
operating location for operations in Afghanistan as part of Operation
Freedom Sentinel and against ISIS in Iraq and Syria as part of Inherent
Colonel Gaedecke said the new E-3G will begin flying combat missions immediately.