Air Force E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft have begun receiving
new Interrogator Friend or Foe (IFF) systems, as part of the fleet's Block 40/45 upgrade program. The $60 million upgrade will see the new IFF system rolled out across the Air Force's fleet of 31 E-3s. The AN/UPX-40
systems include Mode 5
enhancements, with the Saudis also requesting Block 40/45 upgrades in August 2014
, including 20 of the new IFF systems. France
has also upgraded it's E-3 fleet with Block 40/45 enhancements.
The 707-based E-3 aircraft forms the backbone of American, British, French, and NATO airborne early warning and control (AWACS), monitoring large swathes of airspace from an elevated position to detect incursions by enemy fighters, missiles, and even UAVs. When coupled with communications systems that allow it act as an airborne relay and command post for the aerial fight, it becomes a uniquely valuable weapons system. Under the 1981 – 1986 “Peace Sentinel” program, Saudi Arabia bought 5 E-3 AWACS(Airborne Early Warning and Control) planes and 8 KE-3A aerial tanker and cargo aircraft. Up to 3 of the KE-3s were later converted to RE-3A TASS(Tactical Airborne Surveillance System) electronic eavesdropping planes, leaving 5 E-3As, 3 RE-3As, and 5 KE-3 tankers.
Most E-3s around the world are well over 20 years old, and American, British, French, and NATO aircraft have received ongoing upgrades. Like Boeing’s US, British, French, and NATO customers, the Saudis are now seeking upgrades to keep their aircraft up to date. Broadly speaking, Saudi jets are getting 3 kinds of upgrades.