The E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) is a heavily modified Boeing 707-320B tasked with all-weather, air and maritime surveillance, command and control, battle management, target, threat, and emitter detection, classification, and tracking.
The aircraft is capable of surveilling airspace in excess of a 250-mile radius from surface to stratosphere. AWACS coordinates theater air operations in direct subordination to joint/combined air and space operations centers. It can simultaneously conduct C2, BM, and target detection/tracking.
E-3Bs were upgraded to Block 30/35 standards in 2001. Block 40/45 aircraft are redesignated E-3G. The upgrade is the most comprehensive enhancement to date and improves tracking/identification, system reliability, and life-cycle cost. Mods include open-architecture computing, operator workload reduction, new consoles, improved electronic support measures (ESM), and passive surveillance capability.
DRAGON (Diminishing manufacturing sources Replacement of Avionics for Global Operations and Navigation) upgrades add a digital cockpit and next-generation CNS/GATM. Four USAF aircraft are slated for DRAGON in FY21 and mods are slated for completion fleetwide by 2027.
Development includes efforts aimed at shortening the kill chains for time-sensitive targets, modernizing airborne moving target indication, adding high-speed jam-resistant Link 16 as well as fourth-to-fifth generation connectivity (to integrate F-22 and F-35). Additional efforts accelerate install of Mode 5 IFF (for airspace compliance ahead of DRAGON), Electronic Protection (EP) to improve radar processing for classified requirements, advanced BLOS satcom/second-generation NATO UHF, and anti-jam GPS.
Eight airframes will begin upgrade to Block 40/45 standards in FY21, and the single airframe will be redelivered. A total of 31 aircraft will be upgraded to Block 40/45 through 2024. NATO recently elected to modernize its 14 E-3As similarly to USAF’s Block 40/45 standard, extending its fleet through 2035.
Contractors: Boeing, Northrop Grumman (radar); Lockheed Martin (computer); Rockwell Collins (DRAGON cockpit upgrade).
First Flight: Oct. 31, 1975 (full avionics).
Delivered: March 1977-1984.
IOC: 1977; July 28, 2014 (Block 40/45).
Inventory: 11 (E-3B); one (E-3C); 23 (E-3G).
Operator: ACC, PACAF, AFRC (associate).
Aircraft Location: JB Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska; Kadena AB, Japan; Tinker AFB, Okla.
Active Variants: •E-3B. Block 30/35 upgraded aircraft. •E-3C. Block 30/35 upgraded aircraft with additional advanced capabilities. •E-3G. Block 40/45 upgraded aircraft.
Dimensions: Span 145.8 ft, length 152.9 ft, height 41.8 ft.
Weight: Max T-O 335,000 lb.
Power Plant: Four Pratt & Whitney TF33-PW-100A turbofans, each 21,000 lb thrust.
Performance: Speed 360 mph, range 5,000+ miles (air refuelable).
Ceiling: Above 35,000 ft.
Accommodation: Two pilots, navigator, flight engineer, 13-19 mission specialists.