For the record, the French Ministry of Armed Forces announced last month that it has approved the acquisition of three E-2D Advanced Hawkeye Airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.
Contacted by Naval News, the DGA officer in charge of the E-2D program confirmed that the future French E-2Ds will feature aerial refueling capability:
“The French E-2Ds will be equipped with an in-flight refueling probe. The following French aircraft should be able to refuel them: Rafale M, A400M, MRTT, KC130J and future refuelers.”
DGA E-2D program director
Naval News understands that the “future refuelers” mentioned above is related to the future aircraft carrier’s air wing ability to refuel its own aircraft. This will be the Rafale M replacement (known as NGF) or could even be an unmanned aerial refueler (something similar to the MQ-25).
The upgrades to support aerial refueling include probe and associated piping, electrical and lighting upgrades. But this is not the only option that the French are looking at. To increase crew effectiveness during the longer missions (up to 8 hours thanks to in-flight-refueling), Northrop Grumman offers “optional air vehicle enhancements” consisting in:
- Crew lavatory
- Air conditioning
- Ergonomic seats
- Food and beverage galley
- Noise canceling aviation headsets
The ergonomic seats and the air conditioning are part of the “basic” configuration for the French Navy, while the noise canceling headsets are still being considered. The special seats help enhance the field of view in the cockpit and reduce crew fatigue over longer missions.
Specific French sensors and mission computer aboard
As we previously reported, the three E-2D aircraft ordered for the French Navy will be adapted to French requirements by integrating a specific computer, developed by the French Aerospace Industry Service (SIAé), which will guarantee the system’s autonomous upgrade capability. As explained by the DGA program director: “Its role is to enable the autonomous scalability of the mission system. Linked to the native computer on one side, and to French sensors on the other, it will allow the addition of extra French sensors and their evolution without modifying the native system, which would require American intervention. There are also elements necessary for purely French missions. Its size is compatible with a standard aeronautical payload.”
Advanced Hawkeye, CEC and Veille Coopérative Navale
The Advanced Hawkeye is an enabler of the american Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC). The CEC allows the ship to receive targeting information from other assets, such as US Navy and Royal Australian Navy AEGIS destroyers or American and Japanese E-2D aircraft.
According to Naval News‘ Japanese contributor Yoshihiro Inaba, Japan’s E-2D won’t have the CEC capability from the get go however: They will need an upgrade at some point. Indeed, E-2Ds numbered 471 to 474 (the first four JASDF E-2D) are missing the USG-3B, a system necessary for CEC. The AN/USG-3B acts as the CEC Sensor Netting System. It is produced by DRS Laurel Technologies. According to the Japanese Minister of Defense, this system will be installed at a later date. According to Inaba, the most probable possibility is that USG-3B will be installed on the E-2Ds once the SM-6 missile are fitted aboard the Maya-class destroyers. It will be interesting to see if Japan’s E-2Ds from the second batch will come with USG-3B already installed.
E-2D and Veille Coopérative Navale
The French Navy is working on the “Veille Coopérative Navale” (naval cooperative watch), a capability currently under development based on the principle of networking all the data of the sensors of a naval air force. It differs from tactical data linking by exchanging raw and much more accurate information directly from sensors, not from elaborate data. In the future, with the Veille Coopérative Navale , the French Navy will have an optimized picture of the threat and sufficient information to implement even more effectively an anti missile system, facilitating the choice of the most suitable platform to deal with the threat, in a similar fashion to the American CEC system. In a European first, the French Navy demonstrated a cooperative engagement between two of its surface vessels. This first “Veille Coopérative Navale” live test took place in September 2019.
Naval News asked the DGA if the French Navy E-2Ds will come with the CEC systems and whether it will have a role to play with Marine National’s own “Veille Coopérative Navale” system:
“We do not plan to import the CEC. Its French equivalent is currently being developed with the concept of Veille Coopérative Navale, which will be gradually ramped up in the Navy, and in which the E-2D will eventually be included.”
DGA E-2D program director
French E-2Ds Delivered in 2028
The French E-2D Advanced Hawkeyes are set to enter production at the Northrop Grumman plant in St Augustine, Florida, in 2024. They will be delivered by the U.S. Navy in 2028. The Aircraft will then be flown from the United States to France for delivery. the three aircraft will be delivered close together.
Upon their arrival in France, “They will be divided between DGA Essais en vol and CEPA for the tests/experiments, the 4F fleet for its transformation, and SIAé (AIA Cuers-Pierrefeu) for the installation of French equipment” the program director added. DGA Essais en vol is primarily responsible for ensuring the proper functioning of aeronautical weapons and aircraft before their use by the French military. The CEPA/10S is the Air Test and Evaluation Squadron of the French Navy.
Fate of the existing French E-2C fleet
Asked about the fate of the E-2C Hawkeyes currently flown by the French Navy, the E-2D program director explained:
The E-2Cs will have reached their limit of potential and will be removed from service. Parts common with the E-2Ds could be reused as replacements.
About E-2D Advanced Hawkeye
Built by Northrop Grumman, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is the latest variant of the E-2 Airborne early warning aircraft, replacing the E-2C Hawkeye. It brings revolutionary capabilities to the carrier strike group, including the new and powerful AN/APY-9 radar, which is a two-generational leap in technology.
The APY-9 radar is an Ultra High Frequency (UHF) surveillance system that provides both mechanical and electronic scanning capabilities designed to “see” smaller targets – and more of them – at a greater range, particularly in coastal regions and over land.
The U.S. Navy has awarded a multi-year procurement contract to Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. for the purchase of 24 E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft in full rate production for fiscal years 2019-2023. This is the second MYP contract awarded to NGSC. The Navy awarded the first in 2014 for the production of 25 E-2D aircraft. The U.S. congress later increased the number to 26 aircraft bringing the total number of E-2Ds on order for the U.S. Navy to 50 aircraft.
On the export side, Japan has 13 E-2D on order while France is procuring three new Advanced Hawkeyes to replace the in service E-2C Hawkeyes.