By John Rhea
WASHINGTON - The first E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft embodying the mission computer upgrade to achieve the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) has begun development flight tests at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., and the first all-up E-2C with CEC and new satellite communications links is scheduled to make its first flight in February 1998.
The new mission computer, developed at Raytheon Electronic Systems in Marlborough, Mass., is the cornerstone of the upgraded E-2C program, known as Hawkeye 2000, says John Koch, manager of airborne early warning systems engineering at the Bethpage, N.Y., facility of Northrop Grumman Corp., the Navy`s E-2C prime contractor.
Northrop Grumman engineers will modify the first of four existing E-2Cs to the Hawkeye 2000 configuration for delivery in late 1998 and early 1999 and then begin building new aircraft so the Navy will have 75 E-2Cs, all upgraded, by 2010.
About half of the new Hawkeye 2000 aircraft will be new builds and half upgrades, Koch says. There are now 86 E-2Cs in the Navy`s inventory plus those in foreign military forces.
The new mission computer is built around commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology using the Alpha 2100 microprocessor architecture from Digital Equipment Corp. of Maynard, Mass. Raytheon engineers buy the chips from Digital and repackage them on 6U VME boards for the Hawkeye 2000 program, as they did for the U.S. Air Force Northrop Grumman Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft, better known as Joint STARS.
The selection of COTS was not merely to reduce costs, Koch explains, but also to design in standard interfaces such as Ethernet, SCSI, and MIL-STD 1553, as well as to provide for future expansion. There are 11 open slots in the VME chassis for new subsystems.
In addition to CEC and greater satellite communications capabilities, the new aircraft will have improved cooling capacity for the electronics to permit systems growth.
Hawkeye 2000 and CEC are both among the Navy`s Pathfinder programs to implement COTS.
Milestones in the program included the initial aircraft`s first flight with the new computer at St. Augustine, Fla., on Jan. 24 before moving on to Patuxent River. Next comes the decision on low-rate initial production next month. The second Hawkeye 2000 is being readied with the other capabilities, including CEC, for the initial flight next February.
Initial operational capability for Hawkeye 2000 is scheduled for 2001. Navy officials expect E-2Cs to remain in service beyond 2015 and envision new roles for the carrier-based aircraft such as target detection, tracking, and classification in support of theater missile defense.
The new aircraft will retain the APS-145 radar, the identification friend or foe system, ALR-73 electronic support measures system, the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, and the Global Positioning System receivers used in present E-2cs.