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Air Force upgrading radars on its AWACS fleet

The Air Force has kicked off a $60 million large-scale overhaul of communications on its E-3 Sentry fleet , updating the aircraft’s "interrogation" system to better track enemy aircraft.

It is installing the The Air Force is spending about $60 million to install AN/UPX-40 system, meant which will be able to eliminate ground clutter to better detect, identify and track enemy and friendly low-flying aircraft by being able to eliminate ground clutter, according to a news release on the system. The AWACS aircraft will be able to use the information to sendt intercepting aircraft to enemy targets.

The AWACS Next Generation Identification Friend or Foe program office at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts, in April completed the first installation of the system. The Air Force plans to upgrade its entire fleet of 32 aircraft.

"This operational installation marks a huge milestone for the AWACS program," Nick Grudziecki, the NGIFF deputy program manager, said in the release. "And it's only the first of many."

The program to upgrade the interrogation system began in 2008 with a National Security Agency mandate to ensure the aircraft can reliably identify aircraft in combat. The Air Force in 2012 awarded a contract to Telephonics Corp., with first delivery happening this year, according to the Air Force.

"The UPX-40 dramatically improves the detection of weak signals or maneuvering targets at maximum range and improves detection of targets at all ranges," Grudziecki said. "The new interrogation capabilities also provide faster detection of friendly targets."

The installation of the new system is part of an overall program to replace the aircraft's current computers and displays with new equipment.

"The role of the E-3 is to carry out airborne surveillance and command, control and communication functions for both tactical and air defense forces," Lt. Col. Chris Williams, the E-3 Netcentric Capabilities Branch materiel leader, said in the release. "The interrogator is a vital piece of equipment required for AWACS to meet mission needs. With the successful installation of the first UPX-40 system, we are one step closer to equipping the fleet."

The Air Force has been flying its E-3 fleet since April 1978. The aircraft is a modified Boeing 707/320, which is used to provide command and control battle management for friendly aircraft. The complete upgrade is expected to finish in 2020, according to the Air Force.

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