NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Navy is working on plans to sustain the Northrop Grumman [NOC] E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft into the 2040s via several upgrades as production is set to sunset within five years.
“The U.S. aircraft E-2Ds will stop rolling off the line in FY ‘26, we’re starting to shut down in ’23, the last U.S. E-2Ds will roll off the line in ‘26. French will be right behind it in ’27. So that gives us a little bit of an extension but…linking capacity back to readiness – how are we going to sustain this platform through the 2040s,” Capt. Pete Arrobio, manager of the E-2/C-2 Airborne Command and Control Systems Program Office (PMA-231), said here during a presentation at the Navy League’s annual Sea Air Space expo on Aug. 3.
The Navy currently has 48 E-2Ds with three more set to deliver this calendar year. It has a warfighter requirement of 86 and is currently funded for 78 that are expected to be fielded by 2025.
The office is planning to upgrade the E-2D via a set of “delta system software configurations,” or DSSC builds, which given the current software and systems on the aircraft take about four years for initiating an idea to deployment on the aircraft, Arrobio said. That means new DSSC builds will come out every two years.
The service is currently wrapping up fielding DSSC 3, with four more E-2Ds left to convert from DSSC 2. After that is complete, PMA-231 will start rolling out DSSC 3.1 to introduce the Joint Tactical Radio System and Link 16 so the aircraft can meet Pentagon-mandated cybersecurity standards by the end of 2021.
Arrobio noted not all 48 aircraft will get the DSSC 3.1 updates, but those deploying will.
“We have a target of 28 aircraft by the end of this calendar year and we’re on track to meet that today,” he said.
DSSC 3.1 “allows linking, coordinating, distributing and assessing the effects of targeting information at the tactical leading edge,” he continued.
Next in FY ‘23 DSSC 4 will be introduced, which will add improvements to data fusion, GPS and radar. He said Air Test and Evaluation squadrons (VX)-20 and -1 are currently going through developmental testing on that build.
“Building the foundation of DDSC3.1, DSSC 4 makes networks more resilient, it provides from the sea improvements, effuses multiple data systems to the operators while facilitating live and virtual training, Arrobio said. He also noted DSSC 4 is designed to help set up future steps that will provide support not only to a carrier strike group, but to theater and regional areas.
Next, in FY ‘25, DSSC 5 “ includes capability upgrades that are vital to the warfighting effectiveness of the carrier strike group in an [Anti-access and area denial] environment.”
Arrobio could not go into detail due to classification, but said DSSC 5 will add “significant capability improvements” to use multiple E-2Ds simultaneously.
DSSC 6 is scheduled to be introduced in FY ‘27 and aims to add the “most significant change to this platform” since the E-2D rolled out.
Arrobio said E-2D is being asked to do more than it was originally anticipated so DSSC 6 plans to reset antiquated architecture as “vital readiness and reliability upgrades paired with architecture and cybersecurity improvements.” This will allow the aircraft to be interoperable with the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) system and Naval Operational Architecture
“So, yes, E-2D is still in production, it even has the new airplane smell…but the architecture and systems and components for this cockpit as well as the back-end were designed when flip phones were on the stage, 2005,” Arrobio said.
He said the aircraft’s architecture and primary systems must be updated to provide more agility and be able to accept applications.
“There are risks that we can no longer accept unless we upgrade the mission computer and displays of this platform.
He divided the major DSSC 6 upgrades into the Hawkeye Cockpit Tech Refresh (HECTR) for a new certified cockpit, “primarily to address obsolescence” and bring it u[p to modern avionics standards and introduce a head-up display for pilots, meant to be particularly helpful during approach to the aircraft carrier.
The build also includes new theater combat identification and mission computer displays.
“We must have an open system architecture to be flexible, adaptable and reduce the time to install future upgrades on the E-2. We just can no longer afford four to five years – that’s the duration it takes from idea to release on an E-2, that’s why we’re doing DSSC 4, DSSC 5, DSSC 6 every two years. We can’t afford that going further beyond ‘27.”
Arrobio said HECTR is fully funded while the theater combat ID and mission computer have “solid footing” to close the gap.
The third DSSC 6 upgrade is an Improved Landing Mode (ILM), which is not funded or a requirement yet,“but it’s going to be the fleet’s number one request out of their naval aviation requirements group.”
Arrobio said ILM will be similar to the Precision Landing Mode (PLM) on F-18s, although unlike that aircraft E-2D is not a fly-by-wire aircraft with its large radar above the fuselage. However, with aerial refueling capabilities being added to boost the aircraft from four to nine hour missions, ILM would help tired crews on carrier landings in poor weather and at night.
Arrobio also summarized the status of international sales of the aircraft. Three of nine E-2Ds have been delivered to Japan under a second multi-year contract on top of four aircraft previously delivered.
Last December, France signed a letter of agreement to procure three E-2Ds for delivery in fiscal year 2027 and “discussions are ongoing with Taiwan and well as Egypt to joint the E-2D family.”
All four countries already operate the legacy E-2C aircraft, he noted.