Navy upgrades E-2D Advanced Hawkeye radar

The Navy is working with industry to procure next generation software for its latest E-2D Advanced Hawkeye surveillance planes, an aircraft designed to help integrate advanced radar, data communication, and drone control capabilities to detect and intercept cruise missile launches.

Originally procured through a contract with Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. Aerospace Systems in 2014, the Lot 5 E-2D is the updated version of the Cold War Era E-2C Hawkeye aircraft.

Currently, Northrop and the Navy are exploring software support options for the aircraft in anticipation of the transition to full rate production, according to the Department of Defense.

The E-2D is the first aircraft of its type in the missile defense arena able to detect a ground-to-air cruise missile launch, according to Northrop.

The company also reports that image and video surveillance data of the missile launch sites obtained by drones controlled by the E-2D crew can now be fed to and processed by the E-2D computer system, allowing the E-2D to analyze ISR target data and if necessary, coordinate a strike on the launch in real-time to prevent a second launch.

These detection and strike-coordination capabilities are largely due to its use of the latest version of the AN/APY-9 Radar system.

Developed by Lockheed Martin, the AN/APY-9 is an Ultra High Frequency hybrid mechanical/electronically scanned radar system designed to counter stealth mechanisms, as described in a National Defense University publication. The radar uses a longer wavelength between 10 and 100 cm generated by frequencies higher than 300MHz to identify aircraft using stealth measures that would normally render them undetectable.

“The E-2D APY-9 radar provides a significantly enhanced airborne early warning situational awareness capability against all air targets including threat aircraft and cruise missiles,” said Rob Koon, a spokesman for Naval Air Systems Command.

The technological leap represented by this radar system is due to advances in the electronic scanning mechanism, including the new 360-degree coverage capability, and the addition of a new mission computer and tactical workstation that greatly improve the system’s digital computing ability, according to Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed statements point out that as the radar moves to full rate production and deployment, the E2D will be improving target detection and target tracking. It will retain the legacy E2C mechanically scanned radar and also have the ability to scan electronically and slow down the scans in a particular sector of interest, Lockheed developers said.

In order to maximize the advantages of both mechanical and electronic radar scanning, the AN/APY-9 system operates in three separate modes: Advanced Airborne Early Warning Surveillance mode, Enhanced Sector Scan mode, and Enhanced Tracking Sector mode.

The Advanced Airborne Early Warning Surveillance mode is the normal operation setting, providing air and ground surveillance as well as long-range radar detection. The Enhanced Sector Scan mode allows the crew to manually control the antenna in order to focus reconnaissance on a particular area, and the Enhanced Tracking Sector setting ceases all movement of the antenna and allows it to electronically track a moving target, giving continuous updates on targets that are particularly difficult to distinguish.

The E-2D itself is a twin-engine aircraft that is typically launched from Nimitz-Class aircraft carriers, which travel with four E-2C or E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft each to extending the defense force perimeter of the ships.

Working alongside the F/A-18 and EA-18G Growler, two electronic warfare-capable aircraft, the E-2D is part of the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA), a program designed to integrate early warning, surveillance, and weapons control systems to protect ground-based and littoral missions from enemy missile fire.

The final touches on software support for the E-2D are being implemented through a $32,766,375 contract modification and are expected to be complete by March 2018, with full rate production of the aircraft to follow.

About the Author

Katherine Owens is a freelance reporter for Defense Systems

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