AWACS, 2035

Though there’s a “lot of life” in the current fleet of E-3 AWACS airborne battle management aircraft, the shape of how the AWACS mission will be done in the future will flow from a “multi-domain command and control enterprise collaboration team” study now underway, Air Combat Command chief Gen. Hawk Carlisle said Friday. Carlisle said the AWACS mission “may be disaggregated”—meaning performed by a number of smaller platforms—but he suspects there will still be a “central node” that is airborne, and it will likely coordinate the functions of both manned and unmanned aircraft, all with sensors and communications relays. From the study, which will take about a year, “I think we’ll learn a lot” about “the technology and where we’re headed; how we do command and control, how we get resilient capability, and what … multi-domain command and control looks like in the future.” Carlisle said there will be a recapitalization of the Airborne Battlefield Management Command and Control Capability (the EC-130 ABCCC), but the E-3 will likely last “into the 2030s,” he said, attributing the longevity of the 30-year-old aircraft to thorough depot maintenance. “I’d like to start working on the next generation sooner than that,” Carlisle added, and the ECCT review will create a roadmap that will only depend on funding. For now, though, the budget topline can’t accommodate a new AWACS, he said.