An important milestone was recently reached on a significant upgrade improving capabilities for the Airborne Warning and Control System, better known as AWACS.
The 40/45 block upgrade is the largest modification on the U.S. AWACS fleet. It provides a complete replacement of mission computer systems – some of which were originally installed in the 1970s – and a new open, network-based architecture, which enables future net-centric operations. While the improvements themselves are being completed by the 566th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Tinker AFB, Okla., the program office here at Hanscom has the role of lead integrator.
Five of the upgraded aircraft have been delivered to the 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker, which operates the AWACS fleet. The fifth delivery marked the key acquisition milestone of required assets available for initial operational capability of this acquisition category 1c program and is a big step toward IOC declaration by the user.
“The 40/45 block upgrade for our aircraft is critical to our weapon system remaining relevant in the battlespace of the future, and IOC declaration is a critical step in fielding this new capability,” said Col. Jay R. Bickley, 552nd Air Control Wing commander.
And in order to keep that capability viable, diminishing manufacturing sources for current equipment are also being addressed by incorporating more modern components as they become available during programmed depot maintenance. To minimize aircraft operational downtime, modifications are performed at the same time as PDM at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex at Tinker.
According to program officials, there have been challenges, such as budget uncertainties and their impacts, to get to this point.
“These uncertainties drove an intense focus on dynamic planning, talent and resource management to ensure successful program execution and delivery of this capability to the warfighter,” said Lt. Col. Frank Gaillard, E-3 Netcentric Capabilities materiel leader and Block 40/45 program manager.
Additional improvements that are part of the upgrade include replacement of mission software and peripherals. New mission software will enhance tracking and combat identification capabilities, in addition to providing operators with a better picture of the battlespace.
“Block 40/45 provides modern battle management command and control for the operators in order to increase mission effectiveness,” said 1st Lt. Evan Porter, 40/45 production lead.
The upgrade also allows for more sensor integration and improves the aircraft’s data link infrastructure.
Following IOC, the team will then move into full-rate production, or FRP, with the first of those aircraft scheduled to be inducted in the third quarter of Fiscal 2014. FRP for the remaining aircraft is scheduled to continue until 2020.
“As with any major modification program of this magnitude, the fielding of 40/45 has been a very long process and we are beginning to see the light at the end of a very long tunnel,” said Bickley. “It is crucial that we stay the course and ensure this critical capability reaches the hand of the war fighter.”