Without a doubt, the most important aircraft in the carrier air wing is the Airborne Early Warning (AEW) and battle management aircraft, the E-2 Hawkeye. The problem with the Hawkeye is that it is mostly an active sensor and reveals its position when it operates. Yes, the aircraft flies offset from the carrier group because of that but it still tells the enemy that there’s a carrier in the area and where to begin looking for it.
We’ve also noted that in future combat the E-2 will be forced to operate much farther back than desired due to the threat of very long range air-to-air missiles (see, “Goodbye Poseidon and Hawkeye”). The Chinese VLRAAM reportedly has a range of 300 miles and a speed of Mach 6. Hawkeyes are not survivable against such a threat.
What is needed is a stealthy, passive version of the Hawkeye. A passive version of the Hawkeye would use:
- IR/IRST (Infrared/Infrared Search and Track)
- EO (Electro Optical)
- SigInt (Signals Intelligence)
- TCS (Tactical Camera System)
Being passive, there would be no aircraft sensor emissions for the enemy to locate and track. In addition, if the airframe were stealthy the aircraft could operate much closer to the enemy thereby compensating for the reduced sensor range, resolution, and field of view compared to active radar.
A partial – and successful ! - model of such an aircraft is the old electronic version of the S-3 Viking, the ES-3A Shadow, which used signals analysis to provide situational awareness for the carrier group. By all accounts, the ES-3A was quite effective and was phased out only as a [badly misguided] cost savings measure.
|ES-3A Shadow - Passive Hawkeye?|
Operating multiple such passive AEW aircraft would allow triangulation location of targets and increased coverage area.
Alternatively, we’ve discussed a stealthy active radar AEW aircraft based on the B-21 (see, “B-21 Hawkeye”).
The main point is that the E-2 Hawkeye is no longer survivable on the modern battlefield. We need a fast, stealthy version of a Hawkeye, likely based on the B-21. The aircraft can be either passive or active (ideally, both!) or an air wing could have a mix of the two. We've got to stop simply repeating the past because it was once successful. Building more and more Burkes just because they were once successful and screwed up every design since is wrong. Building endless upgrades to an ancient, prop driven aircraft because it was once successful is timid and wrong. Instead, we have to start thinking about what future combat will be like and start designing equipment and operating concepts to fit that future.