The US Navy’s newest and most advanced variant of its E-2 Hawkeye Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft made a brief appearance in “Top Gun: Maverick,” according to a Lockheed Martin Twitter post.
This means a significant leap from the 1986 film prequel, “Top Gun”, which did not feature an AWACS platform, even though E2 Hawkeyes have been in service with the US Navy since 1964, to provide early warning early and command and control for its carrier. battle groups.
In the very first scenes of Top Gun, two F-14 Tomcat fighters rush towards an unknown threat approaching the American aircraft carrier.
As they close the distance between them and the bogey, the American pilots, call signs Maverick (Tom Cruise) and Cougar, are unable to identify if it is an enemy fighter plane and if there was more than one plane.
Finally, one of the pilots, the callsign Cougar, has to make a high-speed pass directly above them to realize that there were two MiG-28s – a fictional aircraft represented by Northrop F-5 .
Even the carrier’s command and control center had no idea what threat they faced until the Tomcats visually identified them.
The power of AWACS
In reality, the carrier would have had an E-2 Hawkeye in the air long before those F-14s were sent. If the E-2 had been used in a real scenario, the MiGs would have been identified over 241 km (150 miles) away.
The E2 would also have ordered these F-14s to intercept the two opposing jets and provide in-depth situational awareness of the entire battlespace.
For example, in the early 1990s, E-2s provided airborne command and control for successful air operations, which were part of a US-led coalition campaign against Iraq in response. to the invasion of Kuwait.
Leading both ground attack and combat air patrol missions over Iraq, the E-2 Hawkeye provided air control to shoot down two Iraqi MIG-21 aircraft by carrier-borne F/A-18s in the early days of the war.
Top Gun’s sequel, featuring E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, even for a brief moment, makes a strong impression.
— Lockheed Martin (@LockheedMartin) June 2, 2022
More importantly, the film depicts the latest variant of the E2, according to Lockheed Martin, whose Twitter post reads: “Have you seen the @northropgrumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and the Lockheed Martin AN/APY-9 Radar make an appearance in the new @topgunmovie?
Besides the E-2D, other aircraft featured in the film include the F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, the F-35C, and even the Su-57s as enemy aircraft.
The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye
The E-2 was the US Navy’s first purpose-built AWACS aircraft introduced into service in January 1964 as a replacement for the E-1 Tracer.
Powered by two turboprops that produce 5,100 hp each, the E-2 has a top speed of 400 mph and a cruising speed of 295 mph. It has a service ceiling of 34,700 feet and can operate for eight hours without refueling.
The Hawkeye houses the powerful APS-145 radar or the APY-9 for the E-2D variants. This, coupled with its identification friend or foe (IFF) and passive detection systems, allows the E-2 to become the “eyes of the fleet” providing early warning, threat analysis and counter control. -actions against any air and/or surface. targets.
The Hawkeye can operate in all weather conditions and is capable of monitoring over 600 targets simultaneously and over 40 airborne targets.
During its five decades of service, the E-2 was updated several times, and the US Navy planned to replace it with a completely different platform. Instead, the service opted to transition to the much more advanced E-2 variant, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.
The primary goals of the E-2D include improving battlespace target detection and situational awareness, especially in littorals; supporting theater air missile defense (TAMD) operations; and improved operational readiness.
The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye could be the US Navy’s secret weapon against the emerging fifth-generation stealth fighter threat. According to a USNI report citing experts, military experts hailed UHF radars as an effective countermeasure to stealth technology.
“It is the physics of longer wavelength and resonance that allows VHF and UHF radars to detect stealth aircraft,” wrote Arend Westra in her Radar vs Stealth article.
UHF band radars operate at frequencies between 300 MHz and 1 GHz, which translates to wavelengths between 10 centimeters and one meter long.
Generally, due to the physical characteristics of fighter-sized stealth aircraft, they must be optimized to defeat the higher frequencies in the Ka, Ku, X, C bands and parts of the S bands.
There is a resonance effect that occurs when a feature of a fighter jet, such as a tail fin tip, is less than eight times the size of a particular frequency wavelength. This omnidirectional resonance effect produces a “gradual change” in an aircraft’s radar cross-section.
This implies that small stealth warplanes that do not have the size or weight allowed for two feet or more of coatings of radar-absorbing materials on each surface are forced to trade off as to which frequency bands they are for. optimized.
That would include planes like the Chengdu J-20, Sukhoi PAK-FA (Su-57) and even Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 jets, according to the report.
The E-2D reached the IOC in October 2014, and by February of the current year, the US Navy would have 51 units of the aircraft. While the Navy’s E-2D requirement is 86 aircraft, the service is funded for a total of 78 Hawkeyes which are expected to be fielded by 2025.
With production ending in 3-4 years, the Navy is developing a plan to sustain the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye for the next 30 years, through a series of “delta system software configuration” (DSSC) upgrades. ), with each new DSSC every two years.
So far, a total of six DSSC upgrades are known to have been planned, which include improved cockpit avionics and enhancements to mission systems, communications capabilities and cybersecurity to keep the “eyes of the fleet” open until 2040 and beyond.
In addition to the US Navy, the Japanese Self-Defense Force also operates 3 E-2DS, which has signed a contract for a total of nine units and even France signed an agreement last December to purchase three E- 2D which should be delivered in 2027.
Meanwhile, Taiwan and Egypt are also said to be in talks to commission the platform. All four countries already operate former E-2C Hawkeyes.