The US Air Force has begun a major upgrade on its E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

The first AWACS aircraft to receive the block 40/45 modification has been inducted by the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center.

The upgraded AWACS will receive new mission software to enhance tracking and combat identification capabilities to provide operators with a better picture of the battlespace.

AWACS 40/45 production chief Major Brett Johnson said the modification would replace a mission computer system originally installed in the 1970s.

“The new system will have an open, network-based architecture, enabling future net-centric modifications,” he said.

The upgrade will allow more sensor integration both on and off the aircraft, improve the aircraft’s data link infrastructure, improve machine-to-machine interaction and compress the timeline from threat engagement to neutralisation.

During the low-rate initial production, six aircraft will be upgraded by 2014, while modifications to the first aircraft will complete by September 2011.

All the aircraft in the AWACS fleet will receive full operational capability by 2020.