The French Armee de l’Air is upgrading its E-3F AWACS radar aircraft, in a $460 million program.
The E-3 Sentry AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft is based on a militarized version of the Boeing 707-320B. It remains the world’s most widely used large-jet AWACS platform, in service with the USAF, Britain, France, NATO, and Saudi Arabia. Over the years, the world’s E-3 fleet has required improvements to keep its radars and electronics current with advances in technology. France received its 4 E-3F aircraft between 1991-1992, and undertook its own RSIP improvement program from 2002-2006. Now, they’ve set their E-3F fleet’s upgrade path to Block 40/45 capability. Which is being delivered at last, after the US government suddenly attempted to get in the way…
The AWACS Upgrade
The E-3 Block 40/45 is the most current variant – and the largest enhancement in the history of the U.S. Air Force’s E-3 AWACS fleet.
It includes new, open-architecture mission computing hardware and software, which shifts from mainframe-based computing to a set of networked servers and modern displays. This will provide the computing horsepower to automate some existing tasks, such as Automatic Air Tasking Orders and Airspace Coordination Order updates. It also makes future upgrades easier. Corresponding software/hardware upgrades replace existing buttons and switches with a point-and-click interface and drop-down menus. Upgraded radar equipment will be complemented by “multisource integration capability” that provides a coherent single picture from the radar, ESM emission detectors, Link-16, and other sources, providing a single picture view for detecting and identifying targets. Improved navigation and communications systems round out the upgrades, and may give some E-3s the ability to operate in less restricted airspace around the world.
Airworthiness testing of the USAF’s Block 40/45 upgrades began in June 2006, mission system testing began in April 2007, and testing finished in September 2008. Depending on government funding profiles, the Block 40/45 upgrades will be installed on the entire USAF fleet of 32 E-3 AWACS by 2016 – 2017. Nor is the USA alone. Britain is determining and inserting upgrades as part of its $1.2 billion through life maintenance program, NATO is in the middle of its own $1.32 billion mid-life upgrade, and the Saudis are making RSIP improvements.
Now France has formally contracted for its own Block 40/45 improvements. Each national AWACS baseline is slightly different, and so each Block upgrade set will differ slightly. Beyond the standard Block upgrades, French E-3Fs will add upgraded Identification Friend or Foe Interrogation, including Mode S and Mode 5 capability. Mode 5 IFF uses a much improved algorithm, and other performance improvements include encryption, range, and civil compatibility. It also adds “lethal interrogation” as a must-respond last chance, and has the ability to distinguish individual aircraft even when they’re close together. The further addition of Mode S assigns a discrete response ‘squawk’ which is unique to that aircraft. Together, they improve combat identification, and enable unrestricted flight in civilian airspace.
The overall French program is $466 million: $440 million for the contract, plus a $26 million reserve. Boeing’s share is $324 million. Air France Industries was to begin installing the enhancements at its Le Bourget Airport facility near Paris in 2012, but it took until June 2013 due to US government delays. The entire fleet was scheduled to complete this upgrade in Q3 2015.
Contracts and Key Events
2012 – 2014
US bureaucratic bungling gets in the way; 1st plane in, 1st modified plane comes out.
July 31/14: Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $17.9 million firm-fixed-price, incentive-firm modification for E-3F enhancements, covering full Mode 5 and Mode S-FAA radar capabilities for incorporation into the French Air Force mission and ground system suite. All funds are committed immediately, and the total cumulative face value of the contract is now $378.5 million.
Work will be performed in Seattle, WA and is expected to be complete by June 30/17. USAF Life Cycle Management Center in Hanscom AFB, MA manages the contract (F19628-01-D-0016, DO 0067 Modification 25).
July 22/14: Delivery. Boeing formally delivers the 1st E-3F mid-life upgrade, following ground and flight tests at Avord Air Force Base and qualification by France’s DGA procurement agency. Sources: Boeing, “Boeing Delivers Upgraded French AWACS Aircraft”.
Feb 17/14: 1st complete. Boeing’s team has successfully completed the 1st of 4 Mid-Life Upgrades to France’s E-3F fleet. While this 1st E-3F+ aircraft undergoes ground and flight tests at Avord Air Base, the others will follow their upgrade rotation through AFI KLM E&M’s facility at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. The DGA expects to validate the upgrade and deliver this 1st E-3F to the Armee de l’Air later in 2014. Sources: Boeing, “Boeing and Air France Industries Successfully Complete Major Modification of French AWACS Aircraft”.
June 17/13: 1st in. Boeing opens the 50th Paris Air show by announcing that subcontractor Air France Industries has begun upgrading the 1st E-3F’s electrical, mechanical and structural systems and mission hardware at its Le Bourget facility. Which is conveniently, the location for the air show.
The upgrades were supposed to begin in 2012, but US government foul-ups (vid. Sept 24/12 entry) delayed the program. Boeing.
April 19/13: Re-baselined. Boeing IDS in Seattle, WA receives an $11.4 million firm-fixed-price, fixed-price-incentive-firm, cost-plus-fixed-fee re-baseline of the French mid-life upgrade delivery order 67 schedule, “due to impacts of the partial stop work order issued June 19, 2012.”
The total cumulative face value of the contract is now $354.1 million. Work will be performed at Seattle, WA, and is now expected to be completed by Dec 31/15. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/HBSKI at Hanscom Air Force Base, MA manages the contract (F19628-01-D-0016, DO 067 Modification 4).
Sept 24/12: US delays. Defense News covers France’s problems upgrading its E-3F AWACS fleet, thanks to bureaucratic bungling on the American side of the table. The problem is that the Pentagon ordered Boeing to stop work on the upgrade, because they needed to hold a review regarding technologies that might be too sensitive for export. Boeing already had staff in Paris, who need to be kept but cannot work. Overall costs: another $5 million.
The US government wants France to pay the extra $5 million. France already spent $10 million on a 2009 risk reduction study that looked at engineering and technologies, and the Pentagon didn’t make an issue of anything at that time. France says, not unreasonably, that if the Pentagon’s serial mistakes caused the problem, and they are the ones managing the program under Foreign Military Sale rules, then the Pentagon can pay for the extra costs. One French official made the blunt statement: “The credibility of FMS is in play.”
So is the schedule. Thanks to these delays, upgrades won’t start until mid-2013, a year late. That could make it tough to meet France’s Q3 2015 deadline.
2006 – 2011
DSCA request; Upgrade contracts; Through-life support contract.
Oct 7/11: Separate upgrade. Air France Industries completes a EUR 50 million DGA contract from 2008, which brings their E-3Fs up to current ICAO civil aviation standards. Some communications upgrades, including satellite communications, were also added. France’s 4 E-3Fs received this preliminary upgrade between early 2010 and autumn 2011, and are all back in service now. French DGA.
Full Block 40/45 upgrades will begin in 2012, under a separate contract.
Sept 12/11: Air France and the French MdlD’s SIMMAD Aircraft Through Life Support Organization have renewed the through-life support contract for France’s fleet of 4 E-3F AWACS aircraft. This 5-year deal increment runs to Sept 1/16. Air France KLM won’t disclose costs, but says:
“Through life support covers the complete array of AWACS engineering support services… technical and documentary support for the aircraft and its mission-specific systems, painting, and heavy maintenance concurrently with Mid-Life Upgrade work, maintaining the related engineering resources, and providing IT and logistics support services. Two related projects will also by continued under the terms of the contract, namely the digitization of all technical documentation, and the integration of airworthiness monitoring into the AWACS computer systems.”
Through-Life Support continued
Jan 7/11: Air France Industries and KLM Engineering & Maintenance, which joined forces following the Air France/ KLM merger, announce a contract with Boeing Defense, Space & Security to install the E-3F’s modification kits.
The work will begin in 2012 in the AFI facility at Le Bourget, outside Paris, and will end when the 4th and last aircraft has been refitted. A team from Boeing will be on-hand throughout the program to oversee operations. AFI KLM E&M
Aug 20/10: Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems in Baltimore, MD receives a $9.8 million contract which will replace narrow band klystron power amplifiers with wide band klystron power amplifiers in Saudi Arabian and French E-3 AWACS fleets. At this time, all funds have been committed by the Electronic Systems Center’s HBSKI at Hanscom AFB, MA (FA8704-10-C-0007).
Jan 22/10: Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $323.9 million contract “which will provide the French airborne warning and control system mid-life upgrade.” At this time, the entire amount has been obligated by the 551 IA/PKA at Hanscom Air Force Base, MA (F19628-01-D-0016/DO 0067).
E-3F upgrade contract
Sept 26/08: The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] France’s request to upgrade 4 E-3F Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) Aircraft with Block 40/45 Mission Computing, Electronic Support Measures (ESM) and Radar System Improvement Program (RSIP) Interface, and Mode 5/S Identification Friend or Foe (IFF). In addition, this proposed sale will include related spare and repair parts, support equipment, publications and technical documentation, integration, personnel training and equipment, contractor engineering and technical support services, and other related elements of program support. The estimated cost is $400 million.
France will use this upgrade to maintain full interoperability and interchangeability with U.S. and other NATO coalition partners, and will have no difficulty absorbing the additional AWACS aircraft into its armed forces. Boeing Integrated Defense Systems in Seattle, WA will be the prime contractor, but implementation of this proposed sale will not require the assignment of any U.S. Government and contractor representatives to France.
March 2006: Study. A risk reduction study identifies risks associated with the upgrade and transition. Source.
2004: Study. France decides to look at upgrading their E-3Fs from Block 30/35. They contracted with Hanscom AFB’s Electronic Systems Center to perform a feasibility study to identify what would be the new French AWACS mid-life upgrade for mission computing and air battle management.
The study was performed to compare the U.S. Block 40/45 system and the NATO mid-term system. After the study, the French concluded they wanted to pursue the U.S. Block 40/45, with French-specific requirements added/ retained. Source.
Late 1990s: France’s E-3F fleet receives upgrades such as electronic support measures that can detect and backtrack incoming radar beams and other electromagnetic emissions, a passive listening and detection system, and a radar system improvement program, which enhanced the capability to detect and track aircraft and missiles. This brings them to roughly Block 30/35 equivalent. Source.
Upgrade to Block 30/35
* Boeing – E-3 AWACS