When there is a call to battle, it is the first fixed-wing aircraft off the carrier, leading the charge. Once deployed, it is the eyes, ears and brains of the fight, flying high above the battlefield, relaying enemy positions and actions through its advanced radar capabilities, able to keep track of friend and foe. And then, when the mission is over, it is the last fixed-wing aircraft to return, ensuring it maintains surveillance and guaranteeing a safe return for allies.
Some call it the “quarterback of the sky,” comparing it to the team leader on the gridiron, calling the plays to the rest of the team.
“The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is an invaluable asset for the modern fleet as we launch into the next decade,” said Capt. Matthew Duffy, commodore, Airborne Command & Control and Logistics Wing.
While iterations of the E-2 have been around for more than 50 years—the first E-2 was developed and launched in the 1950s—the upgraded E-2D now features an APY-9 radar featuring the most modern and technologically upgraded sensor array to allow the aviators in the E-2D to reliably relay strategic information and data to the fleet in real time.
The aircraft was most recently upgraded with aerial refueling (AR) capability as well as software with Delta System and Software Configuration (DSSC) 3. With the AR upgrade, the aircraft can remain on station longer, guiding and leading the strike group, while the DSSC-3 release transmits strategic information via data links to the air wing.
“The E-2D is a game changer,” said Capt. Keith Hash, E-2D program manager with the E-2/C-2 Airborne Command & Control Systems Program Office. “The sensors and the technology upgrades we brought to the platform were a two generational leap in technology and capability [compared to the E-2C it replaced]. When it deployed, it provided modern command and control. In fact, it is one of the most modern airborne command and control systems in the world.”
The original E-2 was developed in the 1950s and deployed in the 1960s, Hash said. It has gone through many iterations and lifeforms up until the E-2C, which was deployed in the 1970s. From there, it was transformed and updated on a nearly yearly basis until the development of the E-2D, which began in the 1990s and through the 2000s.
The aircraft is controlled by five crewmembers—two pilots and three naval flight officers sitting in a modern cockpit with digital displays and tactical information. The aircrew is able to take vast amounts of data and information being collected by the aircraft’s radar and sensor technology and relay it to command and control nodes in order for them to make better decisions in confronting a threat or adversary.
“We modernized the radar and the entire interface, changing how the aviators interact with the weapon system and do their job. The E-2D is a modern aircraft with modern sensors, and we’ve changed even the philosophy of how it is maintained,” Hash said.
“In the past, you would have large pieces of electronics equipment that would come out and require support behind it. The way the E-2D is maintained is at a much more modular level. We’ve given our operational Sailors the ability to update and change components, which was previously handled at the intermediate-level. This allows us to have better supportability and reliability of the system as it goes forward,” Hash said.
Now, with upgrades made to the aircraft to improve radar technology (see page 38) and aerial refueling, the next step is to roll out the upgraded aircraft to the fleet this year.
“In 2020, two fleet squadrons are going to transition to E-2Ds with aerial refueling capability, and that involves air crew training and some aircraft exchanges,” Duffy said. “When this deploys, it’s going to give the carrier strike group and theater commanders many more options with the employability and the concept of operations with the E-2D.”
Duffy said that Jan. 1 marked the start of an important decade for the E-2D, with plans to implement new training approaches, new branding material, as well as new vision and policy statements, all in an effort to reflect the new capabilities of the E-2D. And with this plan rolling out, Duffy said the E-2D will further contribute to fleet readiness.
“We’ve had some challenges in our past, but thanks to the leadership of Vice Adm. [DeWolfe] Miller, the current Air Boss and his staff, Naval Aviation has refocused in a very prudent, methodical way to restore aviation readiness,” Duffy said. “Being smart about how we apply leadership and resources, modernizing our processes and approaches will build and sustain readiness. I’m proud to say we’ve had eight straight months of increasing numbers for mission-capable E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes, ready to be employed by any commander.
“Our best days are yet to come. Our best decade is at our doorstep, and the next decade will be one for the ages, with respect to Naval Aviation, but will be the best decade yet in history of the proud E-2 family.”