? Air Force E-3 AWACS aircraft equipped with new Block 40/45 hardware and software are ready for real-world operations, according to a service release. Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Hostage declared initial operational capability for the new E-3G Block 40/45 configuration on July 28, states the Aug. 15 release from Tinker AFB, Okla., home to most of the Air Force’s 31-airplane AWACS fleet. “This modification represents the most significant upgrade in the 35-plus year history of the E-3 AWACS and greatly enhances our crewmembers’ ability to execute the command and control mission while providing a building block for future upgrades,” said Col. Jay Bickley, Tinker’s 552nd Air Control Wing commander. IOC means there are enough Block 40/45 airframes on hand, along with trained aircrews, maintainers, and spare parts, to sustain combat operations, if called upon. The wing has taken delivery of six E-3Gs, two of which have deployed to support counterdrug operations, said Gordon Fitzgerald, the 552nd ACW’s requirements director. The entire AWACS fleet is scheduled to receive the Block 40/45 upgrade by Fiscal 2020, he said. Boeing is the prime contractor for this work. The Air Force proposed retiring seven E-3s in Fiscal 2015, but so far, Congress has not agreed to this plan in its deliberations on next fiscal year’s defense legislation.
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.