Friend Me? France Upgrading Its Hawkeye AWACS
Oct 19/11: The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] France’s official request for up to $180 million in equipment to upgrade the Marine Nationale’s fleet of 4 E-2C Hawkeye-2000 airborne early warning planes, which fly from NAS Lann-Bihoue and FS Charles de Gaulle. The Hawkeye 2000s have already been through one major upgrade cycle, improving their mission computer, electronics throughout the aircraft, satellite communications, and propellers.
This is a less comprehensive upgrade, but it’s still important. France will be improving navigation and avionics. American hardware will include 5 AN/ALQ-217 ESM systems, which help the planes sense and then backtrack radio/radar emitters. The core of their upgrade, however, is Mode 5/S Identification Friend or Foe (IFF), which is also being added to their larger, land-based E-3F AWACS planes.
Identification friend or foe (IFF) systems aren’t foolproof, but they can reduce friendly fire dangers. IFF is also required for flight in many regions of civilian airspace. The 5 APX-122 IFF Interrogator systems and APX-123 transponder Systems that France is requesting use the new Mode 5 iNATO IFF standard. Compared to NATO’s Mode 4, it adds better encryption, spread spectrum modulation, time of day authentication, and a unique aircraft identifier. IFF Mode 5 level 2 adds aircraft GPS position information and other attributes, which can help IFF systems when aircraft are grouped closely together. In this respect, Mode 5 shares some characteristics with the new civilian IFF Mode-S. The further addition of Mode S assigns a unique responding ‘squawk’ for that aircraft. Together, they make friendly fire mistakes less likely, and enable unrestricted flight in civilian airspace.
France won’t need any government or contractor representatives on full time postings, but the request also includes related spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, weapon system support, development, publications and technical documentation, integration and testing, personnel training and equipment, and other forms of U.S. Government and contractor support.
BAE makes the AN/APX-122 and AN/APX-123, but the prime contractor will be Northrop Grumman Corporation in Bethpage, NY, who has overall responsibility for the E-2 Hawkeye.