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US Air Force kicks off search for AWACS successor with RFI solicitation

US Air Force file photo of an E-3 Sentry breaking away from a KC-135 Stratotanker after being refueled Feb. 28, 2019, while flying in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

The US Air Force has officially begun its search for the successor to the E-3G Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, releasing a request for information (RFI) to industry this week.

As per the RFI, the program requires delivery of at least two production representative prototype aircraft, including ground support and training systems, within five years since the contract award.

The air force is looking for a new solution as AWACS has been the service’s rapidly deployable Command and Control (C2) and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) asset since late 1970s.

Capable of rapid global deployment and 24-hour, all weather operations, AWACS provides Battle Management Command and Control (BMC2) to the Combat Air Forces with airborne systems and personnel for theater surveillance and warning as well as control of strategic, tactical, and special mission forces.

In addition to US Air Force, the AWACS is in service with a number of other countries, as well as NATO, who is currently also in the process of finding a replacement for the ageing platform. NATO’s Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) released a feasibility study tender for the AWACS successor last summer, revealing that six industry teams, led by Airbus, Boeing, General Atomics, L3Harris, the MDA Systems and General Dynamics Mission Systems duo, and Lockheed Martin.

It is yet unclear who the competitors in the US Air Force program could be, but service officials revealed earlier that the E-7A Wedgetail, based on Boeing’s 737-700 and in service with Australia, could be a viable solution. The service has already used this year’s Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base to evaluate an Australian E-7A for the role. The exercise followed a previous US Air Force “business opportunity announcement” in which sought information from Boeing on what additional work would be necessary to adapt the already operational Wedgetail to the US Air Force “configuration standards and mandates.”