COTS computers are key to E-2C upgrade

May 1, 1998
WASHINGTON - Leaders of Northrop Grumman Corp. in Bethpage, N.Y., expect to complete flight testing next month of an upgrade to their E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft.

By John Rhea

WASHINGTON - Leaders of Northrop Grumman Corp. in Bethpage, N.Y., expect to complete flight testing next month of an upgrade to their E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft.

Company officials want to keep this aircraft in service with the U.S. Navy past 2015. The focal point of this evolutionary growth is the modular computer upgrade, which uses an open-system architecture defined in 1994 and which is to accommodate the Navy`s proposed cooperative engagement capability (CEC) to achieve interoperability of naval forces.

The Hawkeye computer upgrade aims at using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computer chips from the beginning to provide a growth path, said Marc DeBlasio, manager of Northrop Grumman`s Hawkeye 2000 program, during a news briefing last month at the Navy League Sea-Air-Space conference in Washington.

The Hawkeye`s COTS computer chips were originally 200 MHz Alpha processors from Digital Equipment Corp. in Maynard, Mass., and in the new configuration currently in flight test are being upgraded to what DeBlasio called Digital`s "top-of-the-line" 333 MHz Alpha microprocessors.

Building the mission computer are Raytheon Electronic Systems engineers in Marlboro, Mass. These experts defined the architecture and have since joined Northrop Grumman. The computer originally was the L-304, which designers are putting into new cabinets with a reduction of one-half the space and two-thirds the weight. The mission computer requires 350,000 lines of software code. Computer designers have increased data storage from 1 to 9 gigabytes.

A separate cooperative engagement capability computer from Raytheon E-Systems in St. Petersburg, Fla., (also now part of Northrop Grumman) uses 200 MHz RISC 604 chips and requires 50,000 lines of software code, says Neil Gumbman, program director for AEW trainers at Northrop Grumman. The airborne CEC system, which weighs 700 pounds including an end-fire array antenna, is 50 percent common at the card level.

The shipboard system is to be installed on Aegis cruisers. Designers have also reduced the weight of that system from 9,000 to 2,000 pounds. It employs an active-array antenna. Delivery of the shipboard CEC systems began last month.

The current flight test program at Northrop Grumman facilities in St. Augustine, Fla., is a key milestone in the Hawkeye evolution to the eventual 2000 configuration that will employ CEC. Company officials have designated two test aircraft: tail number A141 for the computer upgrade and A125 for the Hawkeye 2000 with CEC.

Northrop Grumman engineers are due to deliver five upgraded aircraft, two later this year and three early next year, in preparation for the Navy`s technical and operational evaluations that will continue through next year. Four will be for evaluations and the fifth for training.

That will wrap up Hawkeye 2000 development in anticipation of a Navy decision next year to resume Hawkeye production. Initial operational capability for the aircraft is to be in 2002. The total Hawkeye 2000 buy is to be 36 aircraft, of which 15 are now under contract. The total Hawkeye AEW fleet will be about 75 aircraft.

Another electronics feature of the upgrade is the change to R-134a refrigerant for vapor cycle cooling. This meets environmental requirements and provides additional cooling capacity for future system upgrades.

Click here to enlarge image

The newest upgrade to the U.S. Navy Northrop Grumman E-2C carrier-based Hawkeye radar patrol aircraft, pictured above, will involve COTS flight computers based on the Digital Alpha microprocessor.

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