This may be the beginning of the replacement of one of the most valuable aircraft of the USAF. The USAF has announced its willingness to seek informations on a new aircraft capable of performing the duties of a radar detection aircraft and hosting a command post (AEW&C).
An indispensable aircraft in U.S. air doctrine
Based on the Boeing 707-320B, the E-3 Sentry is one of the best-known aircraft in the U.S. air force thanks to its rotodome on top of the aircraft. Commissioned in 1977, it provides the USAF with an improved airborne radar: in addition to detecting aircraft in flight, it can also track aircraft flying low over the ground and distinguish between enemy and allied aircraft. The various communication systems also allow it to direct an air-to-air missile towards its target without it being caught by the radar of the launching aircraft. It is also an electronic warfare aircraft since it can detect the waves of an enemy radar, identify it and locate it precisely. Finally, it is a communication center since it can centralize information from the various units involved in an operation. This last feature allows it to assume the role of air command post.
This highly versatile aircraft is present in the United States, in an international unit under NATO command or even in France (702 Avord air base, in the Cher department, France). In April 2018, it is two French E-3F Sentry that manage and command the various British, French and American aircraft that are heading to Syria to bomb stocks or production sites of deadly gas.
An initial no-bid analysis
The USAF issued a request for information (RFI) on Feb. 9 to find manufacturers capable of providing a replacement for the 31 E-3G Sentry aircraft in its fleet. Over the course of 30 days, the USAF will analyze the various proposals from candidates available on the market. However, this step will not necessarily imply the launch of a tender, but it maintains 2023 as the deadline for the launch of its tender and this, to be able to start testing two prototypes in 2028.
For the moment, there is therefore no question of a short-term withdrawal of the American E-3G Sentry. The latter have moreover just been upgraded to the Block 40/45 standard, which has notably allowed for a complete modernization of the computers (some of which had never been modernized) and electronic systems of the aircraft.
The E-7 Wedgetail as a clear favorite
The E-7 is based on the Boeing 737 and has one big advantage over the E-3 Sentry: its multi-role electronically scanned radar:
- The E-3's mechanically scanned radar is limited to analyzing a circle of more than 375 km. For example, if an E-3 is flying over Paris, it can detect an aircraft flying over London (UK), Aachen (Germany), Lyon (France) or Rennes (France).
- The E-7's electronically scanned radar is not limited to a specific area since it analyzes an area using a multitude of sensors. Depending on the situation, the analysts on board the aircraft can decide to decrease the power supply of several sensors - thus decreasing the analysis of their respective quadrants - to redirect this power to one or more other sensors and increase the analysis distance in their respective quadrants.
Also, on Oct. 19, 2021, the USAF had rightly highlighted the E-7 when it issued a request to Boeing for analysis of the E-7, titled "E-3 Replacement Aircraft Studies and Analyses".
Finally, the aircraft is already operational in a number of countries, and the United Kingdom is equipping itself with the E-7 Wedgetail as a fitting replacement for its E-3 Sentry.
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