The 1980's were marked by the appearence of this aircraft. It took it's place in history during the Gulf War. There are few aircraft quite as revered as the E-3. Airforces and Navies have relied on being able to detect and identify enemy aircraft for decades. The use of airborne radar pickets was a common practice by the 1960's. These aircraft could detect and relay that information to ground stations. Aircraft like the EC-121 (the Super Connie with the big bulge) were very useful in the Vietnam war but they lacked the space and power for newer more powerful radars. So one in the Pentagon also wanted the next generation to be able to direct counter attacks, not just radio the information of a targets location to the ground. The aircraft would be a self contained command post. Airborne Warning And Command System (AWACS) was the result. The airframe the ubiquitous Boeing 720/707/C-137, was decked out with the large rotating antenna - allowing 360° survelliance.
In the 1980's NATO countries were prompted into buying a new version of the E-3, the E-3D, with more advanced electronics. This was an unusual purchase; both Britain and France also ordered aircraft that while they operate within the NATO fleet, are not part of the it.
Several other countries now operate AWACS aircraft (Saudi-Arabia, Isreal).
The USAF has been kept busy updating their aircraft with the latest software and radar modifications. These improvements have seen the airborne side of the aircraft's life change markedly to that of ground policing, too. In fact the whole concept of AWACS is being shapely re-analyzed by the Pentagon, a merger of E-3 and E-8 (J-STARS) features could well be on the cards, along with control of unmanned assets (both armed and un-armed UAV's) to provide a wider spectrum of surveillance and the option to immediately hit targets.
The E-3 will remain a stalwart of USAF, and other forces, tactical doctorine well into the future.
NATO E-3D. Rainy day at RAF Binbrook 1987(?).
|© Copyright A. Maclean 2003 -|