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.
Saudi E-3 Upgrades
The 1st set of upgrades is the most basic, and the most necessary. Saudi E-3 avionics need to be upgraded, in order to comply with international aviation rules. Those are often referred to as CNS/ATM (Communications & Navigation Systems/ Air Traffic Management) upgrades.
A 2nd kind of upgrades involves military communications, which can be improved by adding high-bandwidth transmissions, and better transmission security. The RSAF’s E-3As and RE-3As have no peers among the Gulf Cooperation Council states, and integration that let them work with the UAE’s new command and control infrastructure would create a powerful regional resource. The parties involved aren’t discussing that aspect.
The 3rd kind of upgrade involves surveillance electronics. Radar System Improvement Program (RSIP) kit upgrades improve the AWACS radar by boosting its sensitivity, toughening it against jamming, and improving its reliability. Related enhancements to the plane’s passive listening electronic support measures (ESM) system can help the plane detect, identify and track electronic transmissions from ground, airborne and maritime sources, in order to determine radar and weapons system types within its surveillance range.
A recent proposal would perform in-depth upgrades on the plane’s electronics, bringing the Saudi fleet all the way to the current E-3 Block 40/45 standard flown by the USA and France. Under those upgrades, mission computing hardware and software shifts from mainframe-based computing to a set of networked servers and modern displays. This provides 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 and hardware upgrades replace existing buttons and switches with a point-and-click user interface and drop-down menus. RISP-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, creating a single picture view for detecting and identifying targets.
Contracts & Key Events
2011 – 2019
RSIP installation; Block 40/45 upgrade
April 2/19: Friend or Foe? The US Air Force contracted Telephonics $12.6 million for the Royal Saudi Air Force Airborne Warning and Control System (RSAF AWACS) Next Generation Identification Friend or Foe (IFF). The deal is for manufacture, test, and delivery of Next Generation Identification Friend or Foe AN/UPX-40 Interrogator shipsets and installation kits for the RSAF AWACS fleet. The AN/UPX-40 IFF avionics enables aircraft to identify and position aircraft or ships as friendly or unknown, as well as determine their bearing and range. The Telephonics IFF and secondary surveillance radar systems aids military and civil air traffic controllers to direct traffic and protect friendly forces. Additionally to AWACS aircraft worldwide, the company’s IFF systems are deployed at airports, on aircraft carriers, on surface vessels, and aboard maritime patrol fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Work will take place in New York and is scheduled to be finished by the end of 2021.
October 19/17: Boeing has been awarded a $240.2 million US Department of Defense (DoD) contract for the provision of an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) to the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF). The fixed-price-incentive firm contract calls for the provision of AWACS mission computing, navigation and communication upgrades and enhanced target acquisition systems to rapidly distinguish between friend or foe. Work will take place at Oklahoma City, Okla., with a scheduled completion date of February 2019. The sale comes under the first phase of of the RSAF’s AWACS recapitalisation program.
July 31/15: 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.
Aug 12/14: Block 40/45. The US DSCA announces Saudi Arabia’s official export request for E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System modernization to the most current Block 40/45 status, at an estimated cost of up to $2.0 billion.
The request includes 5 Block 40/45 open architecture Mission Computing Upgrade system sets at its core, including computers, servers, and new interactive displays. This will be accompanied by 20 Next Generation AN/UPX-40 Identification Friend or Foe systems. Ancillary products and services include communication equipment, an updated Mission Planning System, spare and repair parts, support equipment, repair and return services, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of US government and contractor support.
These upgrades are a continuation of efforts to maintain interoperability with US and coalition forces, including Britain’s E-3Ds, and the E-3F/G Block 40/45s flown by France and the USA. Implementation of this proposed sale won’t require any extra US Government or contractor representatives in Saudi Arabia. Sources: US DSCA #14-11, “Saudi Arabia – AWACS Modernization Program”.
DSCA request: Full E-3 Block 40/45 upgrade
June 5/12: RSIP Installation. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $66.8 million (face value) firm-fixed-price foreign military sales contract, exercising priced options for the installation and check out of Group A and B RSIP kits in the Saudi fleet of 5 E-3s. That seems to bring installation costs to $107.2 million, or $21.45 million per plane.
Work will be performed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (50%), Seattle, WA (30%); and Baltimore, MD (20%). Work is to be complete by June 15/15. ESC/HBSK, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., is the contracting activity (F19628-01-D-0016, Delivery Order 0080).
Dec 14/11: RSIP Installation. Boeing in Seattle, WA received a $50.4 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee, time-and-material contract for installation and check out of Group A and B RSIP kits in the Saudi fleet of 5 E-3s. Work will be performed in Seattle, WA, and is expected to be complete in Oct 28/13. This was a sole-source acquisition, managed by the ESC/HBSK at Hanscom AFB on behalf of their Saudi client (F19628-01-D-0016, Delivery Order 0080).
2008 – 2010
RSIP installs; Requests: CNS/ATM and Communications upgrades.
Aug 20/10: Hardware upgrade. 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).
June 30/10: RSIP IIA kits. Boeing Integrated Defense Systems in Seattle, WA receives a $73 million contract for the Saudi RSIP program’s Phase II-A production requirements, totaling 5 aircraft. At this time, the entire amount has been committed by the 551st ELSG/PKI at Hanscom Air Force Base, MA (F19628-01-D-0016; Delivery Order 0070).
See Aug 7/08 for the RSIP’s phase 1, and Dec 7/07 for the original DSCA request to buy. With respect to the 2-phase CNS/ATM upgrades mentioned in the August 2009 DSCA release, a Boeing spokesperson told DID that his understanding “is that it’s still in the proposal stage.”
Aug 6/09: CNS/ATM request. The USA’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] Saudi Arabia’s formal request to buy equipment related to a 2-phased upgrade to the Communication Navigation and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management systems for the Royal Saudi Air Force’s fleet of 13 E-3 aircraft. The upgrade could run up to $1.5 billion, and will enhance the Saudis’ ability to use a common architecture for efficiently communicating the gathered electronic data within the RSAF and with other regional coalition forces.
Phase 1 will include Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation Systems, 8.33 kHz Very High Frequency radios, Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems, Mode S Transponders, Mode 4/5 Identification Friend or Foe Encryption, High Frequency radio replacements, Multifunctional Information Display Systems for Link 16 operations, Have Quick II radios, Satellite Communications and Common Secure Voice encryption.
Phase 2 will include digital flight deck instrumentation and displays, flight director system/autopilot, flight management system, cockpit data line message and combat situational awareness information.
A U.S. prime contractor will be chosen after a competitive source selection, and will also have responsibility for spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publication and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment to include flight simulators, U.S. government and contractor engineering support, technical and logistics support services, and other related support.
DSCA: CNS/ATM civil compatibility
Aug 6/09: Comms. request. The USA’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] Saudi Arabia’s formal request to buy a second set of equipment that aims to give RSAF the ability to use a common architecture for efficiently communicating the gathered electronic data, within the RSAF and with other regional coalition forces. The estimated cost is up to $530 million, and includes:
* 10 AN/ARC-230 High Frequency Secure Voice/Data Systems
* 25 AN/ARC-231 or 25 AN/ARC-210 Very High Frequency/Ultra High Frequency (VHF/UHF) Secure Voice/Data Systems
* 4 MIDS-LVT Link 16 systems
* 4 LN-100GT Inertial Reference Units
* 25 SY-100 or functional equivalent Crypto Systems
* 7 SG-250 or functional equivalent Crypto Systems
* 6 SG-50 or functional equivalent
* 10 CYZ-10 Fill Devices
* Plus modification of existing ground stations, a TASS equipment trainer, a mission scenario generator (simulator), and maintenance test equipment; spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documentation, modification/ construction of facilities, U.S. Government and contractor engineering and support services and other related elements of support.
The principal contractor will be L-3 Communications Integrated Systems Company in Greenville, TX. Implementation of this sale will involve up to 6 U.S. government and four contractor personnel to participate in program reviews at the contractor’s facility every 6 months. There will be approximately 6 contractors in Saudi Arabia providing technical assistance on a full-time basis until the system is integrated into the operational units.
DSCA request: Comms.
Aug 7/08: RSIP installs. Boeing in Kent, WA received an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity, fixed-price delivery order contract not to exceed $42 million. In return, they will install the Radar System Improvement Program (RSIP) capability on 5 Royal Saudi Air Force AWACS jets. At this time $27.3 million has been committed. 551 ELSG/PKS at Hanscom AFB, MA manages the contract (F19628-01-D-0016, #0062).
This first phase includes a study to determine which parts are obsolete and no longer available, then locating and testing parts obtained from new sources. Phase one also includes purchase of many long lead parts and the start of software design. The next phase involves production and installation of the Radar System Improvement Program (RSIP) kits, software integration and testing, and crew training. Phase 2 was intended to be part of a 2009 follow-on contract, but actually arrived in June 2010.
The RSIP kit is built principally by Baltimore-based Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems under subcontract to Boeing. It consists of a new radar computer, a radar-control maintenance panel, and software upgrades to the radar and mission-system programs. Boeing release.
2001 – 2007
Link-16 upgrades; Repairs required; RSIP radar upgrade request.
Feb 28/07: Support. Ongoing maintenance is also part of the US-Saudi AWACS relationship. The RSAF’s 6th Flying Wing brings an E-3A aircraft to Tinker AFB, OK for repairs, and the 566th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s E-3 Maintenance Flight replaces a bearing between the rotodome and aircraft. A 6th Wing aircrew will perform aerial tests before returning the aircraft back to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Tinker AFB, OK sustains the RSAF Peace Sentinel fleet (E-3A and KE-3A aircraft) through a Letter of Offer and Acceptance and the 557th Aircraft Sustainment Squadron’s Mid East Support. USAF release.
Dec 7/07: RSIP request. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced [PDF] Saudi Arabia’s official request for 5 sets of Airborne Early Warning (AEW) and Command, Control and Communications (C3) mission equipment/Radar System Improvement Program (RSIP) Group B kits for subsequent installation and checkout in all 5 of its E-3A Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS). In addition, this proposed sale will include spare and repair parts, support equipment, publications and technical documentation, contractor engineering and technical support, and other related elements of program support. The estimated cost is $400 million, and the prime contractor will be Boeing Aerospace Company in Seattle, WA.
Implementation of this proposed sale will require the assignment of approximately four contractor representatives to Saudi Arabia to provide technical assistance to integrate the aircraft into the operational units. Also, this program will require U.S. government and contractor personnel to conduct annual, one-week Program Management Reviews in Saudi Arabia. The DSCA adds that:
“Saudi Arabia needs this additional mission equipment to continue its development of an extended Airborne Early Warning (AEW) capability, as well as enhanced command, control and communications (C3).”
While other Saudi weapon requests are drawing fire, the E-3 program is unlikely to find itself caught in that vortex due to the routine nature of the request, its non-offensive nature, and the value to the US of having additional AWACS surveillance assets to maintain key “orbits” in the region.
DSCA request: RSIP.
Nov 13/06: Link 16. Saudi Arabia purchases JTIDS Link 16 systems, which quietly transmit a shared picture to participating aircraft and ground stations. A contract to install them in the RSAF’s E-3 AWACS fleet was issued in September 2007. See “Link 16 for Saudi E-3 AWACS” for full details.
August 2001: Hardware & displays. Boeing began installing new mission computers and other hardware and software on the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) AWACS fleet, as part of a contract worth $60 million. Under the contract, Boeing upgraded the aircraft’s mission computer and software to the same level currently in use by the U.S. AWACS fleet and train Royal Saudi Air Force operators. That project was completed in 2003.
* USAF – E-3 Sentry (AWACS).
* Global Aircraft – E-3 Sentry.
* Boeing – Saudi E-3 AWACS. 2012 snapshot.
* GlobalSecurity.org – E-3 Sentry (AWACS) Variants.
* DID – France Upgrading Their E-3F AWACS. Receiving Block 40/45 upgrades.
* USAF (Aug 15/14) – AWACS upgrade achieves initial operational capability. They’re referring to the USAF’s E-3G Block 40/45, with 6 delivered to the squadron. All USAF E-3s are scheduled to finish E-3G conversion in 2020.