AEWACs and other Support assets

Military aircraft - Post cold war aircraft, including for example B-2, Gripen, F-18E/F Super Hornet, Rafale, and Typhoon.
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zero-one

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Unread post09 Jul 2019, 08:45

Surprised to see that we have no thread dedicated to the unsung heroes working in the background.
(Or at least I couldn't find it)
Namely the AEWACS planes that are vital in every major air war.
Anyone interested in discussions can do so here.

First question.
Why isn't the USAF investing in the E-7 to replace the E-3?
The E-7 has an AESA, its lighter (therefore more fuel efficient) more modern and would keep the 552nd ACW in the cutting edge of AWACS tech.

Now a lot of people might say that a squadron of F-22s or F-35s can do the job better. But wouldn't you want all available 5th gens to be behind enemy lines unleashing mayhem instead of loitering for hours doing AEWACS duties.
I think it will take several teams of 5th gen fighters to loiter for hours or do what an AEWACS was designed to do.

Your thoughts
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blain

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Unread post09 Jul 2019, 22:46

Replacing ISR assets seems to be a sore issue. It reminds me a little of the retirement of the EF-111s. The AF thought about developing a jamming pod for the B-52 but was ok with the Navy fulfilling that role with the EA-6Bs and then the EA-18G.

Replacing Joint STARS seems to have been a higher priority, partially due to maintenance issues with the recycled 707 airframes. The AF repeated shelved plans for a replacement. The AF doesn't see this as a pressing issue, perhaps because it affects the Army more than the AF. The AF doesn't want to talk about platforms. Maybe because an E-8 replacement will cost lot of money. They talk about networks and a battle management architecture. Maybe satellites or unmanned systems. Who knows.

You would think airborne early warning and the air battle management would be something that the AF would have higher on its priority list. The E-3s have more life left in them than the E-8s and their systems have been upgraded over the years, unlike the RAF's E-3Ds. As adversaries develop longer range AAMs and SAMs does it change how the AF uses AWACS in non permissive environments? The ability to fuse data from 5th gen fighters surely distributes ISR capabilities to other platforms. Boeing surely would want the AF the purchase the E-7. But I haven't heard any serious discussion from the AF. The 737 would be more fuel efficient and cost less to operate. But I wonder if it is much better as a surveillance aircraft. I maybe wrong but I don't think its radar has the same detection range and it likely does not have the same type of ESM capability. It may not need to replace it yet and maybe waiting for something which is markedly more capable.
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zero-one

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Unread post10 Jul 2019, 07:30

Well the AF is upgrading the E-3 to E-3G block 40/45s standards. basically replacing computers to 2000s era standards. But it'll use the same PESA dish if I'm not mistaken. So the desire to modernize is there

I's still good but as of now but the USN, IAF, ISDAF PLAF and thanks to the E-7 the RAF and RAAF seem to have the technological edge in AEWACs platforms as of now.
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Unread post11 Jul 2019, 16:16

The issue I think gets back to survivability. The E-3 (in any rendition) has a large RCS, is slow, lumbering and unable to make aggressive maneuvers (unlike fighters). I'm sure it has lots of ECM, chaff, flares etc. but let's be honest - it's doubtful they'll survive long in an S-400, R-37 world. The ground based SAM threat, in addition to the long range air to air hypersonic weapons being deployed by Russia/China have sounded the death knell for AWACS, in all but the most permissive environments.

Unless the U.S. has fielded some anti-missile missile covertly to protect these AWACS (and by extension, Tankers too), they're sitting ducks in a near peer conflict.

Fortunately, this is where the F-35 shines. It can get closer, will be extremely hard to detect and unlike the AWACS - be able to do something about it either through deploying its own weapons, or directing other assets in for the kill.

This is a good time to pause and consider just how valuable the F-35 is. We're not just buying a fighter. It's an air to air powerhouse, air to ground dream machine, fully capable of ISR, quarterbacking etc.long after its weapons are gone and has the legs to stick around. I also suspect it has the ability to "fry" enemy electronics, namely fighter and ground based radars. Add to that towed decoys and other tricks, and the AWACS days I think are numbered.
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zero-one

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Unread post13 Jul 2019, 08:48

mixelflick wrote:The issue I think gets back to survivability. The E-3 (in any rendition) has a large RCS, is slow, lumbering and unable to make aggressive maneuvers (unlike fighters). I'm sure it has lots of ECM, chaff, flares etc. but let's be honest - it's doubtful they'll survive long in an S-400, R-37 world.


Well of course not. But thats not where its supposed to be.
Ideally the AEWACS should be in less contested airspace, ideally escorted giving valuable ISR while in orbit and safeguarding the task force against enemy attack. Specially against low altitude attacks, I think the AEWACS is still the best at detecting those.

Sure the F-22 and F-35 can do this also and they will be more invulnerable while doing it too, I get that, but can they do it for hours and hours at a time. You'll need multiple F-22/35 flights to cover an area within the duration a single E-7 can.

At first I also thought the USAF was setting aside the idea of using dedicated AEWACS in favor of the whole networked combat cloud approach. But then I found out that they are upgrading the E-3 into E-3G block 40/45. So no, they still think they need the AEWACS. My question is, why not go for the E-7, it seems to be more capable than the E-3G? is it budget constraints?
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f4u7_corsair

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Unread post13 Jul 2019, 17:41

Are people really suggesting F-35 can do an AWACS' job?
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botsing

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Unread post13 Jul 2019, 22:10

f4u7_corsair wrote:Are people really suggesting F-35 can do an AWACS' job?

I think they are suggesting that the F-35 sensor inputs can be a part of the bigger picture, if the F-35's are closer to a target due to their stealth ability than they would indeed add a lot of information to the overal AEW&C information sphere.

In such a role they seem to imply the real AEW&C can be moved further away from danger due to the F-35's sensors being a first line of defense.

Using the F-35 as a weaponized and stealthy information node makes a lot of sense to me.
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blain

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Unread post15 Jul 2019, 19:56

The challenge with using the F-35 as an ISR asset is its lack of persistence. The idea of a stealth fighter is you reduce the number of aircraft used for particular missions. In a major theater war how many 5th gen fighters, or other airborne assets for that matter, are you going to have traversing through enemy airspace at one time? Enough to cover the whole battlespace.

The value of AWACS is its persistence. Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly difficult to operate this type of aircraft in non permissive environments. There is the threat from modern SAMs like the S400. But as the Russian and Chinese deploy air to air missiles with longer range it will become increasingly difficult to protect these assets from air threats.

Increasing the detection range of the radar might be a solution. But there are limitations to this approach. Until SAMs are suppressed and air superiority is established the value of AWACS will be limited.
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Unread post16 Jul 2019, 05:24

Michael Gschossmann, general manager of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization agency that manages the AWACS fleet, said he expected to finalize by December a $750 million contract with U.S. arms maker Boeing Co to extend the life of the aircraft through 2035, with $250 million more earmarked for design, spare parts and testing.

But he said it was critical to decide quickly how to replace the 1979/1980-era airplanes, with their distinctive radar domes on the fuselage, or NATO would need to take costly steps to keep them flying even longer.

“We have to get moving on this. We have to ensure that the studies move along quickly. We need a reality check,” he said.
The AWACS planes are among the few military assets owned and operated by NATO, rather than individual states. They are used to conduct missions such as air policing, support for counter-terrorism operations, evacuations, and crisis response.
Gschossmann told Reuters NATO could follow the lead of member states Britain and Turkey in purchasing the E-7, a newer radar plane also built by Boeing. Those aircraft, he said, were large enough to add potential new capabilities, such as operating drones for expanded surveillance, in coming years.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-fran ... SKCN1TG0C1
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Unread post17 Jul 2019, 04:07

I think the E-8's role is obsolete due in large part to the F-35's capabilities so there's some cost savings there.

The role of large AEW is being questioned. In peacetime, it is being proven that aerostat-mounted radars provide significantly more persistence. AEW based on cheaper private jets which fly longer, faster and higher like G650ER, with conformal radars that are visually less obvious targets are alternatives. China has developed an unmanned AEW (JY300).

The E3G upgrade (More than half the USAF fleet has been upgraded) buys time to assess best way forward. No point spending a huge ton on replacements like wedgetails only to find it obsolete, vulnerable and costly.
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Unread post17 Jul 2019, 15:20

I'd say the S-400 and very long range Chinese AAM's are the big worry.

Do you invest in new E-7's, only to find out you can't fly them within effective range of the battlespace? For targeting of strategic-bomber sized types, the S-400's listed range is 570 km. That's a whole lotta real estate, and the 40N6E long range missile is hypersonic. Also, it's been confirmed China has S-400's in place, armed with that very missile.

AWACS are great. But they're also crazy expensive, and unless they have some classified tech we don't know about - sitting ducks for these types of air defense systems.
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zero-one

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Unread post17 Jul 2019, 18:01

mixelflick wrote:I'd say the S-400 and very long range Chinese AAM's are the big worry.

Do you invest in new E-7's, only to find out you can't fly them within effective range of the battlespace?


Well the RAF, RAAF, ROKAF and others have surely taken all that into consideration, but they still invested in it. The USAF isn't exactly giving up on AEWACS either, upgrading their E-3s to G models.

But since it looks like AEWACS is considered more of a "shared asset". Maybe Uncle Sam is content in making her allies provide the bulk of the ISR duties with their advanced E-7s while they provide the bulk of the fire power with the most number of 5th gens in a joint air campaign.

Should the US need to provide her own AEWACS, they still have a relatively good one with the E-3G.
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Unread post18 Jul 2019, 07:49

The Australians had a substantial local industry contribution. The Korean railroaded the E-7A acquisition and the RAF's selection process is not exactly the most rigorous (see MRA4 fiasco).

its interesting what the USAF is doing with the EC-37B for the compass call replacement. The 2085 radar is kept which suggests theoretically the aircraft can do both AEW and EW roles.
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Unread post19 Jul 2019, 19:14

I would expect Air Moving Target Indicator capability to proliferate to things like P-8 AAS, RQ-4 and Triton.

The problem with the bizjets is that they can't come close to the power generation capability that you
get from the widebodies; E-3 can generate a full megawatt. And at the lower frequencies, the higher
operating altitudes which provide lower attenuation don't offset this loss in power.

I could also see ABMS revisiting the bi-static UAV adjunct that was looked at for E-3 a decade ago.

And things like the miniature self defense munition and defensive DEWs are going to show up on the
large aircraft before they show up on fighters and when combined with the improved standoff
from bi-static operation might change the vulnerability profile.

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