AWACS upgrade achieves initial operational capability

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- The Commander of Air Combat Command, Gen. Mike Hostage, declared Initial Operational Capability for the 552nd Air Control Wing's E-3G "Sentry" Airborne Warning and Control System Block 40/45 aircraft July 28 here.

"This modification represents the most significant upgrade in the 35-plus year history of the E-3 AWACS and greatly enhances our crewmembers' ability to execute the command and control mission while providing a building block for future upgrades," said Col. Jay R. Bickley, 552nd ACW commander.

Colonel Bickley said meeting this milestone is a testament to outstanding teamwork as evidenced with the great partnership enjoyed between the 552nd ACW, ACC, the AWACS System Program Office, Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex and the wing's contracting partners.

Gordon Fitzgerald, the 552nd ACW's director for Requirements, said six Block 40/45 modified aircraft have been delivered to the 552nd ACW and two of the E-3G models have been successfully deployed in support of counterdrug operations.

He went on to say the wing has Block 40/45 specific parts, support equipment and technical data on hand. The wing has also completed initial training and initiated a structured plan for ongoing training.

"We are confident we can deploy and support this important weapon system worldwide," Mr. Fitzgerald added.

Brig. Gen. Gene Kirkland, OC-ALC commander, said the complex workforce is proud to be part of an important operational milestone.

General Kirkland said there is still much left to do to give the 552nd ACW more 40/45 capable platforms.

Colonel Bickley praised the many members of the AWACS team who made the milestone possible, adding, "This is a great asset for U.S. command and control and a milestone we can all be proud of to be a part."

The 552nd ACW is home to the E-3, with 27 of the fleet's 31 AWACS aircraft being housed at Tinker Air Force Base. Of the remaining four aircraft, two are stationed at Kadena Air Base, Japan, and two are at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska.

According to Mr. Fitzgerald, the entire fleet of E-3 aircraft will be upgraded by FY 2020.

Known for its signature black-and-white rotating radar dome that sits on top of the aircraft, the E-3 Sentry provides all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications needed by commanders of U.S., NATO and other allied air defense forces.

In support of air-to-ground operations, the Sentry can provide direct information needed for interdiction, reconnaissance, airlift and close-air support for friendly ground forces. It can also provide information for commanders of air operations to gain and maintain control of the air battle.

As an air defense system, E-3s can detect, identify and track airborne enemy forces far from the boundaries of the U.S. or NATO countries. It can direct fighter-interceptor aircraft to enemy targets. The E-3 Sentry is designed to respond quickly and effectively to a crisis and support worldwide military deployment operations.

With its mobility as an airborne warning and control system, the Sentry has a greater chance of surviving in warfare than a fixed, ground-based radar system. Among other things, the flight path can quickly be changed according to mission and survival requirements. The E-3 can fly a mission profile for more than eight hours without refueling. Its range and on-station time can be increased through in-flight refueling and the use of an onboard crew rest area.

The 552nd ACW has had a continuing presence in the Middle East, flying over 14,000 sorties and logging more than 130,000 flying hours from 1980 to 2003. In 2003, the wing returned to Tinker AFB for a break in deployment. The break didn't last long. In early 2007, the wing returned and reestablished its presence in the region.