AWACS’ Trio of Treats

A team of Air Force engineers successfully demonstrated three battlefield-requested capabilities for the E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft during proof-of-concept testing at Tinker AFB, Okla. The upgrades require only minimal modifications to E-3. The first is the Situational Awareness Data Link. Operating on the Link 16 network, the E-3 can only send airspace information directly to other Link 16-capable aircraft—excluding the A-10 and many Air National Guard fighters. But SADL “lets us use the E-3 as an opportunistic aerial gateway . . . to provide direct communication and send the air picture” to those other platforms, said Jonathan Lee, AWACS lead project engineer. The two other low-cost modifications enabled the AWACS to extend Link 16 beyond line of sight using a satellite mobile telephone, and switch between USAF and Army networks in flight without rebooting. (Tinker report by Patty Welsh)