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The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye's radar system is capable of tracking 20,000 objects simultaneously.
The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye's radar system is capable of tracking 20,000 objects simultaneously.

Air Force seeks early-warning plane

The Air Force is in talks to buy an advanced reconnaissance aircraft to improve the UAE's ability to detect attacks early.

ABU DHABI // The UAE Air Force is in talks with a US defence firm to buy an advanced reconnaissance aircraft that would improve the country's ability to detect attacks early, industry leaders say. Negotiations to purchase the advanced technology come as part of a plan to modernise the Armed Forces directed by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE.

The Air Force is considering buying the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, which is equipped with a rotating mushroom-shaped antenna. But officials are also considering similar technologies offered by a number of defence firms worldwide. Major Gen Obaid al Ketbi, chairman of the military committee for Idex, the international arms fair that concluded on Feb 26, said last month that talks with a number of contractors had not yet resulted in an agreement. "It's going to take some time," he said.

Described by the US navy as the "eyes of the fleet", the Hawkeye was designed to carry out such tasks as tactical battle management and airborne early warning (AEW). The technology, experts say, would enhance the UAE's early-warning capability in line with the installation of its planned Patriot anti-missile system. In December, the UAE signed deals with Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, the US defence contractors, to acquire two versions of the Patriot system. The two deals will help build an integrated defence system to shield the country from many types of aerial threats including long-range ballistic missiles.

Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems, primary contractor of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, says the aircraft uses far more advanced technologies than previous Hawkeye models. Hawkeyes have been in service since 1964 and are the oldest US military aircraft model still in production. "We've had many discussions with the Air Force; as a matter of fact they even travelled to the United States," said Jerry Spruill, the director of international airborne early-warning programmes at Northrop Grumman. "The UAE is looking for such technology worldwide. The goal here is to have the best technology and also technology that they can rely upon," he said. The US department of defence has invested about US$2billion (Dh7.3bn) in the development of the E-2D. Engineers at Northrop Grumman based it on the E-2C Hawkeye 2000 but it features "a state-of-the-art radar with a two-generation leap in capability and upgraded aircraft systems that will improve supportability and increase readiness", according to the US navy website. The E-2 series is the only reconnaissance aircraft built specifically for airborne early-warning duties. Originally it was designed to operate from an aircraft carrier, but the E-2D under discussion has fixed wings and would operate from land bases. Most AEW aircraft were commercial models that were modified for military purposes, such as India's Phalcon, which was built by mounting an Israeli AEW unit on a Russian transport plane. Many were inspired by the Boeing E-3 Sentry, or Awacs. That plane is much bigger than the Hawkeye and can accommodate up to 25 crew members. . The Hawkeye has a number of competitors that the Air Force may also consider, including the Saab S100B Argus. Variants of that aircraft were sold to Greece, Pakistan, Sweden and Thailand. Another competitor is the Boeing 737 AEW&C. That was designed for Australia but has also been requested by South Korea and Turkey. The Hawkeye carries a pilot and a co-pilot with three crew members operating the radar systems. Since the plane would be based on land, its flying capacity would be eight hours, which is longer than that of the US navy's carrier-based aircraft. The extra range would be enabled by filling the fixed wings with fuel. The plane has an antenna which can help spot hard-to-detect targets such as cruise missiles. Within 10 seconds, the time it takes the antenna to rotate, the radar can track objects in the air and on land or sea within a 370km radius. The Advanced Hawkeye is scheduled to be deployed by the US navy in 2011 at a cost of $80 million each. Northrop Grumman is awaiting authorisation to begin production of 75 Hawkeyes. mhabboush@thenational.ae

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