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French Military to Procure E-2D AEW System for Carrier Charles Da Gaulle; Why Interoperability with U.S. Carriers is a Key Asset to France's Navy

February 23rd - 2018

Image Credit : Northrop Grumman

The U.S. Navy developed the E-2 Hawkeye as a carrier based airborne early warning control (AEW) platform to operate from its Nimitz Class supercarriers. The E-2 has been instrumental to ensuring the primacy of the United States' blue water naval capabilities since its first induction in 1964, and acts as a valuable force multiplier for the Navy's carrier based air wings. Its radars are not only able to detect incoming threats, but can also help to coordinate attacks by U.S. fighters against adversaries well beyond visual range. Until 2018 the U.S. was the only producer of carrier based AEW fixed wing aircraft, and this changed only with China's induction of the KJ-600 developed for its own carrier fleet in 2017. Other carrier powers have either gone without AEW entirely, such as Britain and Thailand, or else relied on less capable helicopter based systems as in the cases of Russia and India.

France's Navy operates a single aircraft carrier, the Charles De Gaulle, which relies on similar steam based launch systems to the U.S. Nimitz Class supercarriers. The similarities between the two platforms, despite the French carrier's relative lack of sophistication and far smaller size, has meant that several carrier based aircraft used are interoperable. Indeed, the carrier Charles De Gaulle's Dassault Rafale M is the only non U.S. carrier based fighter allowed to operate from U.S. supercarriers. The similarities between their systems also allow the French Navy to operate the E-2 Hawkeye from its own carrier, giving the Charles De Gaulle's air wing a significant advantage over those of rival carrier platforms. While French carrier based aircraft cannot make full use of the E-2'a capabilities due to the far more limited range of their air to air missiles, lacking anything with a range comparable to the U.S. AIM-54 or AIM-120D, the AEW platform nevertheless remains a considerable asset.

With the U.S. Navy having inducted the first of a new class of supercarrier, the Gerald Ford Class, a more advanced carrier based AEW system has been developed to enhance the fleet's capabilities. The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye has been equipped with a new avionics suite, enhanced engines, a new glass cockpit and the ability to refuel in the air. It also has superior satellite communication systems, a new AN/APS-145 radar and a new mission computer when compared to the original E-2. The U.S. Navy is set to receive 75 Advanced Hawkeyes by 2027. The Japanese Navy was the first foreign party to show interest in the aircraft, and has sought to use it as a ground based AEW system due to its carriers' inability to operate such platforms. The French Navy has shown interest in acquiring the new platform for its own carrier to modernise its capabilities. A French Navy spokesman stated in regards to this acquisition: "three E-2Ds are scheduled to be delivered by 2026-2028. They will renew the 'gateway' function of the French naval aviation." The French Navy in the mean time seeks to modernise its existing AEW capabilities, with a naval aviation Public Affairs Officer stating regarding the modernisation program: "From 2017 until 2019, the naval aviation E-2Cs are in a retrofit phase. Its scope is the modernization of weapons system, electronic warfare and IFF, as well as tactical consoles, and obsolescence processing to meet the requirements of interoperability. Modernization work is carried out by the manufacturer Northrop Grumman, in France at AIA Cuers." The E-2C's modernisation is only a temporary solution for the French Navy, and the platforms are set to be retired once the Advanced Hawkeye enters service in the 2020s.

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