The all-knowing “eyes of the fleet” — the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye — is the newest variant of the highly reliable E-2 aircraft platform.
The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC) Oct. 10 which means it is ready for deployment preparation, said Capt. Drew Basden, commodore of the Navy’s Airborne Command Control and Logistics Wing. IOC signifies that the first operational squadron, VAW-125, is manned, trained, equipped and ready to start deployment preparation with E-2D aircraft.
Basden and Capt. John Lemmon, program manager for E-2/C-2 Airborne Tactical Data System program office (PMA-231), briefed reporters in October in a preview of the E-2D on Naval Air Station Norfolk.
According to Basden, the “Tigertails” of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 125 (VAW-125) are the first to be certified for five operational E-2D aircraft, instead of the traditional four E-2Cs per squadron. This squadron also has six trained air crews and a fully-certified maintenance team. VAW-125 is expected to deploy on the USS Theodore Roosevelt next year.
Right now E-2Cs continue to perform a crucial role in the Middle East. Launching from the USS George Bush in October, they served as flying command posts and air traffic control for the ongoing strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant terrorists. “The Carrier Air Wing Commander would not go into harm’s way without an airborne E-2,” Basden said.
Powerful, Advanced Capabilities
Some of the advanced technology featured in the E-2D are: a completely new radar featuring both mechanical and electronic scanning capabilities; a fully integrated "all glass" tactical cockpit accommodating a fourth operator; an advanced identification friend or foe (IFF) system; new mission computer and tactical workstations; enhanced electronic support measures; an enhanced communications and data link suite, a net-centric architecture for timely information sharing between Navy and joint assets and smart provisions to enable future growth.
The E-2D’s sensors, onboard tactical data processing systems, and communications systems utilizing various data links, such as Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), Link-16 and Link-11, provide real-time battlespace awareness to operational commanders. The aircraft’s AN/APY-9 radar system is a key component of this networking capability, providing 360-degree automatic, simultaneous air and sea surface radar detection and tracking, Lemmon explained.
The E-2D’s advanced software reduces crew workload and provides precise command and control data. It’s extensive UHF, VHF, HF, SATCOM and data link communications enable it to perform in a wide variety of mission sets, Lemmon said. Mission data processing is improved by increasing computing throughput and memory capacity with improved tracking algorithms.
The Advanced Hawkeye software suite uses an open architecture leveraging commercial off-the-shelf technology that allows rapid technology insertion. The open architecture is adaptable for unique customer requirements. Foreign military sales are expected.
The E-2D’s electronically-steered antenna features significant improvements in coastal and overland detection performance and theater air and missile defense capabilities which are essential in contested areas.
Contrary to popular thinking, the E-2’s familiar large dome does not house its radar; the radar is actually in the body of the aircraft, while the dome contains the radar and IFF antennas, Lemmon said. The carrier-based Hawkeye has a trio of detection systems — the radar, IFF and electronic support measures (ESM) — which are able to detect ships and aircraft in excess of 300 nautical miles.
The E-2D also carries the ALQ-217 ESM systems to detect and track air and surface radio frequency emitters.
In addition to its long-standing role as an airborne early warning, command and control platform, the E-2D provides enhanced battlespace management and situational awareness (detection, communication and identification) and is a key pillar to the Chief of Naval Operations’ vision of the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) concept in which Navy ships, fighter aircraft, unmanned systems, and the E-2D Hawkeye are linked into a single enterprise network.
“We hold an asymmetric advantage over adversaries [with the Advanced Hawkeye],” Lemmon said.
The E-2D is also suited for civil missions, such as air traffic control; search and rescue coordination; humanitarian assistance; counter-piracy; counter-drug operations; and protection of national economic exclusion zones (EEZ), Lemmon said. In the event of a national disaster when land-based communications and civil air traffic operations are knocked out or degraded, the E-2D can play a vital role in coordinating search and rescue operations and establishing communications.
The E-2D’s new capabilities combine improved maintainability, reliability, and human systems integration.
Future upgrades planned include: an IP data link, aerial refueling and improved crew comfort, Lemmon said.
Hawkeye aircraft have provided airborne early warning and command and control since the early 1960s. The plane was first developed by Grumman (later Northrop Grumman) and entered service in 1964.
Advanced Hawkeye development began in 2003, and the E-2D first flew in 2007, according to Lemmon.
"Since the first E-2D Advanced Hawkeye delivery in 2007, every aircraft has been, and continues to be, delivered on cost and on schedule,” Lemmon said. "I'm confident that the E-2D will continue to be ready, relevant and capable for decades to come and continue serving the Navy carrier strike group with distinction."
The Hawkeye program of record calls for 75 new aircraft to be delivered through 2026. There are currently 15 E-2Ds flying, Lemmon said. The 16th aircraft will be delivered in November. Sixty-two E-2Cs are now operating in the U.S. Navy, with an additional 28 E-2Cs operating in foreign militaries.
Maintenance, Training and Operation
The Hawkeye is flown by 11 fleet squadrons stationed in Norfolk, Virginia; Point Mugu, California; and Atsugi, Japan, said Cmdr. John Hewitt, commanding officer of VAW-120, the Greyhawks. The mission of VAW-120 is to fly, and train naval aviators, naval flight officers, and naval aircrew to safely and effectively operate E-2 and C-2 aircraft, preparing them to join the fleet, Hewitt said. VAW-120 is the only fleet training command for E-2 and C-2 aircraft.
“The E-2 has a good safety record… This is a high risk business but we mitigate that through training, and we prove that every day ashore — and especially afloat,” Hewitt said, who has clocked in more than 2,000 flight hours. “I chose to fly the Hawkeye. I love it. I started flying in 1999, and I feel the same today.”
The training squadron is made up of about 800 pilots, Naval Flight Officers (NFOs), aircrew, enlisted maintenance personnel, civilian personnel and contractors, Hewitt said.
Although the average person would not be able to distinguish the difference between the E-2C and 2D variants, VAW-120 maintenance personnel have no such problem. They are impressed with the improvements that have made their jobs easier.
“The E-2D has a new airframe, all new parts... I can spot the differences even in the dark,” said Aviation Structural Mechanic – Safety Equipment (AME) 1st Class Daniel Bow. “Troubleshooting problems is easier and takes less time… I like the work because requirements vary from day to day. You never know what you will be doing… The best part of my day is interacting with junior Sailors, the 17 and 18 year-old mechanics, teaching them. It’s why I still do this job to this day.”
The E-2D features upgraded engines providing increased electrical power and cooling and a strengthened fuselage to support increased aircraft weight. The E-2D’s Automated Logistics Environment (ALE) is the automated system for maintenance and support. It downloads, stores and distributes E-2D diagnostic and sensor data, identifies maintenance requirements and integrates with Navy maintenance and supply systems. The ALE also integrates with the Interactive Electronic Technical Manual (IETM) to automate maintenance functions, according to Northrop Grumman.
While the E-2D has many advantages over the E-2C, each aircraft has quirks that aviation personnel are quick to spot, according to Aviation Electronics Technician (AT) 1st Class Dayna La Mothe.
“Aircraft have different 'personalities’ You are around them so much that you develop a ‘relationship’ with the aircraft … You can talk about a specific aircraft and another person in the aviation community will know exactly which one you are talking about,” La Mothe said.
A 10-year Navy aviation veteran, La Mothe said it took six months of training to prepare for the new E-2D aircraft. “Repair used to be pretty much trial and error. But the new system can tell you the exact time when a problem occurred.”
Continuously launching and recovering aircraft on an aircraft carrier may seem monotonous to some, but the VAW-120 maintenance personnel said they are eager to go back to carrier operations with the Advanced Hawkeye.
“Flight ops… It’s a great adrenaline rush. It is like the first time — every time you go out on a carrier,” said Aviation Machinist's Mate (AD) 1st Class Mike Capagna.
Sharon Anderson is the CHIPS senior editor. She can be reached at