The US Air Combat Command (ACC) has declared initial operational capability (IOC) for the US Air Force's 552nd Air Control Wing's first upgraded E-3G Sentry Block 40/45 airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft.
To date, the 552nd Air Control Wing (ACW) has taken delivery of six Block 40/45 modified aircraft, and two of them have already been successfully deployed in support of counterdrug operations.
552nd ACW commander colonel Jay Bickle said: "This modification represents the most significant upgrade in the 35-plus year history of the E-3 AWACS and greatly enhances our crew members' ability to execute the command and control mission while providing a building block for future upgrades."
552nd ACW requirements director Gordon Fitzgerald said the wing possesses Block 40/45 specific parts, support equipment and technical data and has also completed initial training and initiated a structured plan for ongoing training.
"We are confident we can deploy and support this important weapon system worldwide," Fitzgerald added, noting that the USAF plans to upgrade the entire E-3 aircraft fleet by 2020.
The AWACS upgrade is being performed by the 552nd ACW, the AWACS system programme office, ACC, Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, or ALC, and the wing's contracting partners.
Built by Boeing, the E-3 Sentry is designed to provide all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications required by commanders of US, Nato and other allied air defence forces.
The aircraft provides direct information needed for interdiction, reconnaissance, airlift and close air support for friendly ground forces, while also providing information for commanders of air operations to gain and maintain control of the air battle.
Based on the Boeing 707 airliner, the aircraft is also operational with Nato, French, the US and the UK air forces.
Image: A USAF E-3G Sentry airborne warning and control system aircraft sits on a flightline. Photo: courtesy image.