Do Awacs Advanced Air Warning aircraft still have a place in modern air warfare?

Since the Second World War, Western armies have drawn much of their firepower from their air forces. However, from the mid-50s, it was not so much the relative quality of their fighters and bombers against Soviet aircraft, as the strength of the supporting fleet, which carried Western air superiority. Thus, in 1957, the KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft entered service which, based on a Boeing 707 cell, made it possible to refuel in flight first the strategic bombers of the US Air Force, then the hunting fleet while the new hunters were equipped with poles or then supplies. The aircraft was produced in 803 copies until 1965, and was notably acquired by the French Air Force. It was in 1955 that a second type of key aircraft entered service for the Western air forces, the Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star. Developed in 1949 on the basis of the Constellation transport aircraft, this four-engine piston engine was equipped with two radar radomes, one on the back, the other under the tail, and had the task of detecting aircraft but also enemy ships, beyond the radar horizon of ground or surface radars. The 262 copies produced served only in the American forces, and were withdrawn from service in 1978 by the US Air Force, and 1982 by the US Navy.

The Warning Star was replaced by two devices still in service today. The US Navy developed, in the early 60s, a device providing these functions both from land bases and on board its aircraft carriers to replace the inefficient E-1 Tracer. The E-2A Hawkeye entered service in 1964. Equipped with a rotating dome radar, it did not, however, give satisfaction and was quickly replaced by the E-2B which, thanks to a new computer, offered detection capabilities well superior to those of its predecessor. But it is with the E-2C version that the Hawkeye obtained its letters of nobility, and became widespread on board US aircraft carriers. It was also chosen by several air forces, including Israel and Japan, to act as an advanced air surveillance device from land bases. France, for its part, acquired 3 copies at the end of the 90s to arm the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle on board the 4F flotilla previously equipped with Alizée.

2015 ASAP 125 Defense Analysis | Awacs and electronic warfare | Military aircraft construction
The Air and Space Force implements 4 E-3 Sentry modified to carry detection and protection equipment of national invoice

The US Air Force, meanwhile, developed the E-3 Sentry, which is also known as the Airborne Warning and Control System, or AWACS. Like the KC-135, the E-3 was designed on the basis of the Boeing 707, and implemented the powerful AN/APY-1 cupola radar equipped with a passive electronic antenna. Very efficient, as it is able to detect devices at medium and high altitude up to 650 km, and devices operating at low or very low altitude at 400 km. It was built in 68 copies, including 18 for NATO, 7 for the Royal Air Force, 4 for the French Air Force, 5 for Saudi Arabia and 34 for the USAF. This aircraft formed the mainstay of the Air war during the last decade of the Cold War, and played a crucial pole in the wars that followed, such as the Gulf War in 1990/1991, the wars in Yugoslavia and the Kosovo War of 1994 to 1998, until the surveillance of European airspace today in the face of the war in Ukraine. Paradoxically, while these aircraft have been at the heart of American and Western air strategy for the past 4 decades, no successor had been developed by the US Air Force, as was the case, for example, with the KC-46A and its European alternative the A330MRTT for the KC-135. And if this one has just announced the future order of 26 E-7A Wedgetail precisely to replace its aging E-3, it is clear that this is more of an emergency measure than a long-term strategy for the USAF, while the Sentry show more and more operational weaknessess.


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