The first E-3 Sentry with upgraded DRAGON flight deck modifications arrived at Tinker AFB, Okla., earlier this month. The AWACS aircraft, which was delivered to the 552nd Air Control Wing, is the first of 24 that will be upgraded over the next eight years, according to a press release. The upgrade enables the Sentry to remain in compliance with changing domestic and international air traffic control requirements. It also replaces older analog flight management systems with commercial-level digital ones, and fully automates the navigation system. As such, the standard crew size will be reduced from four to three on the modified aircraft. The AWACS modernization program was first announced in October 2014 as a joint effort with NATO. NATO completed a first round of testing on the new Sentry in January of 2015.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.