DRAGON Effort to Upgrade Tinker, NATO AWACS

The Air Force and NATO are undertaking an extensive modernization of the cockpits of their E-3 AWACS aircraft through the DRAGON program, according to an Air Force release. The E-3s of the 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker AFB, Okla., and NATO’s E-3s stationed at Geilenkirchen, Germany, will undergo the Diminishing Manufacturing Sources Replacement of Avionics for Global Operations and Navigation (DRAGON) program, to remove obsolete parts and ensure compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization standards. The program focuses on the flight deck, replacing most of the jet’s analog indicators with digital graphical displays, and almost all the 1970s era avionics in favor of updated subsystems. The upgrade will eliminate the position of the navigator, as well, dropping the crew size from four to three and adding a Mode-5 “friend or foe” capability. Other new tools include weather radar that is capable of predicting wind shear, an enhanced ground proximity warning system, a digital flight deck audio system, and other updates. USAF and NATO are undergoing joint engineering and development, but each will have separate production and deployment contracts. Ground testing for NATO AWACS is slated for this month, with flight testing to begin in November. The Air Force expects delivery of its fleet of DRAGON-enabled E-3s by 2025.