An E-2C undergoes “dry plug” testing behind an F/A-18. (U.S. Navy photo)

Patuxent River, MD — Aerial refueling of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye is closer to reality after the Navy successfully conducted a critical design review of its AR capability Wednesday and Thursday.

The review paves the way for installing AR capabilities aboard the E-2D AHE for flight testing. The AR capability is expected to reach initial operational capability in FY2020.

During the review, Naval Air Systems Command and Northrop Grumman leaders presented various aspects of the AR system’s technical development to a technical review board for evaluation. This key review brings the program closer to manufacturing the AR system for installation on new E-2D AHEs on the production line and for retrofit of E-2D AHEs already in operational use.

“The AR team continues to put outstanding effort into bringing this much needed capability to the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye,” said Capt. John Lemmon, program manager, E-2/C-2 Airborne Tactical Data System Program Office (PMA-231). “Aerial Refueling will enable the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye to provide longer on-station times at greater ranges.”

“CDR is the last major design milestone where we still have an opportunity to influence the AR system design,” said PMA-231 Technical Director Tom Maratta. “These in-depth assessments cover all the key aspects, including management, engineering, and logistics, to ensure we’re on the right path to field a usable and supportable capability for our fleet operators and maintainers.”

“Achieving this critical milestone moves the program one step closer to fielding this much needed capability to the warfighter,” said Jane Bishop, vice president, E-2/C-2 programs, Northrop Grumman.

The Navy awarded Northrop Grumman Corporation a $226.7 million engineering, manufacturing and development contract in 2013 to design system upgrades that will accommodate an AR capability on the E-2D AHE. The upgrades include modifications to the fuel system to accommodate a refueling probe, long endurance and field-of-view-enhancing seats, formation lights to improve visibility and air space orientation between the E-2D AHE and its refueling tanker and flight control system software enhancements to improve aircraft handling during refueling operations.

The first E-2D AHE test aircraft will be sent to St. Augustine, Florida, in late 2015 to be installed with prototype AR equipment and instrumentation for flight test. Flight testing for the AR-equipped E-2D AHE test aircraft is planned to commence in FY2017, with initial operational Capability expected in FY2020.

The extended range of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye would provide enhanced maritime security against modern threats over broad expanses of open water, littoral areas and densely cluttered terrain. The United States and its allies rely on the Hawkeye’s airborne early warning, command and control capabilities to stay ahead of modern and evolving threats.

“Aerial Refueling will enable the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye to expand its reach and persistence, which will in turn lead to more valuable and timely information for decision makers within the carrier strike group,” said Lemmon.

The Navy’s E-2D Advanced Hawkeye Program of Record is for 75 aircraft. The Navy’s first all-E-2D AHE squadron, the Tigertails of Carrier Airborne Early Warning (VAW-) 125, deployed aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) March 11. Sixty-two E-2Cs make up the rest of the U.S. operational Hawkeye fleet.