RAF’s E-3D AWACS fleet grounded by a mystery fault

Apr 14 2012 - 4 Comments
By Richard Clements

Media outlets in the UK have today reported of a press release from the British Ministry of Defense according to which the RAF’s fleet of seven E-3D AWACS aircraft has been grounded due to a technical issue discovered during routine maintenance.

The report doesn’t explain what the actual problem is (The Sun reported it as a crack in the dome) but it must be a major one to ground a whole fleet of such important planes nor it says if this fault is likely to affect all other E-3s or Boeing 707 derived aircraft in other U.S., NATO or other air forces service.

U.S. AWACS provide homeland security and air space management “services” to U.S. and allied planes in Afghanistan and all around the world.

The press release has been very keen to point out that there is no affect on operational capability as there are other aircraft that can perform the same task.

However, the only other aircraft in RAF inventory with similar capabilities is the Sentinel R.1, the air segment of the Airborne STand-Off Radar (ASTOR) system, that has proved to be particularly effective in Libya. The Sentinel use a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) to detect and track enemy ground forces so it is an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) asset that, unlike the E-3, is not specialized in AEW (Airborne Early Warning) whose primary role is to detect, identify and track enemy aircraft (and guide fighter planes to intercept them).

Indeed, E-3D AWACS will be among the most important assets of the air contingent destined to ensure the security of this year’s London Olympic Games. Provided that the flight ban is lifted.

Once further details are released The Aviationist will provide an update.

Written with The Aviationist’s Editor David Cenciotti

Image credit: RAF /Crown Copyright

  • Zaphod58

    They finally said that the cracks are in the legs that support the dome.

  • Martin J Richards

    In very simple terms, your article is incorrect in that

    ASTOR is in no way similar to the AWACS as the ASTOR Radar looks at the Ground.
    This means that ASTOR can only look at and track aircraft on the ground.

    The AWACS Radar looks at the sky and to a small extent the sea.
    This is so that it can tract aircraft and detect shipping.

    How, do I know ?
    I have worked on both aircraft.

    For the aircraft to be grounded in relation to the Ray Dome it could be either the supports, the axle or for that fact any thing in the Ray Dome.

    *******************

    However, of far more interest is that the airframe (except for for radio antenna and ESM equipments) and radar on the RAF AWACS is 100% identical to that of the French and Saudi Air Force. the other 707 AWACS used by the USA and NATO are very different as is the 767 AWACS used by Japan.

    Logically one or all of the above airforces should also be grounded ?

    • http://theaviationist.com/ David Cenciotti

      Excuse me Martin,
      but have you read the article?

      Have you read that:

      “However, the only other aircraft in RAF inventory with similar capabilities is the Sentinel R.1, the air segment of the Airborne STand-Off Radar (ASTOR) system, that has proved to be particularly effective in Libya. The Sentinel use a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) to detect and track enemy ground forces so it is an ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) asset that, unlike the E-3, is not specialized in AEW (Airborne Early Warning) whose primary role is to detect, identify and track enemy aircraft (and guide fighter planes to intercept them).”

      • Martin J Richards

        The AWACS Radar as I said looks out to the side and is at its hard a simple Air Traffic Control System with one half of the Radar being Primary Radar and the other being Secondary Radar also known as IFF Interrogator.

        The AWACS Primary radar being an ATC set sends out a pulse and times how long it takes to get back and thus calculate how far away an aircraft is.

        The ASTOR system uses Synthetic Aperture Radar which instead of just sending out single pulses transmits a burst of radio which in simple terms resembles a long burst of static. The received radio noise (if you like) is processed to produce a Map similar to a photo.

        The only common radar types between AWACS and Astor radars are the Weather (cloud clunk) radars in the nose of each aircraft.
        ************************

        What is missing though is some form of maritime surveillance aircraft such as Nimrod.

        Whilst I have been saying for years is that the MR 4 Nimrod Aircraft was a joke and should never have been developed.

        This is not to say that the equipment fitted into the aircraft would have been the best as Boeing have in part used the design (not necessary same parts or software) in their new P8 Poseidon. We should have gone in with a partnership with Boeing and buy into the P8 and or the Airbus Equivalent.

        So the state is now:

        AWACS Flying Air Defense Recon – do not have any –
        aircraft are grounded.

        Electronics Recon – Nimrod R1 retired will get new aircraft
        based on converted US Tanker rebuilt as a Rivet Joint.

        Maritime Recon – Nimrod MR2 retired.
        Nimrod MR4 program scrapped.

        Air to Ground recon to spot Tanks, Trucks etc… ASTOR
        Aircraft plan to be withdrawn on Afgan Draw Down

        *********************

        As a country and with regards to our Dir Defence and Recon Capability we need to reform the Royal Observer Corps

        NOTE: Although I have worked on a number of the above, the information has been got from Flight International, RAF Website and Wikipedia !