The E-2 Hawkeye has been exceptionally game-changing in the US Navy and how the service conducts its battle management command and control since its introduction in the early 1960s. The all-weather, twin-turboprop, carrier-capable tactical airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft replaced the previous piston-engine E-1 Tracer, which became rapidly obsolete despite entering service just barely a decade earlier.

Over half-century and a fourth significant version later, the Hawkeye has remained the Navy’s “digital quarterback,” consistently guiding operations and steering net-centric carrier battle groups out of harm’s way.

With this, the US Navy has granted Northrop Grumman a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract of nearly $50 million for the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye early warning aircraft engineering and product support services. This renewed funding will sustain the Lot 11 E-2D modification, which will run through February 2027.

aircraft flight test
The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft conducts a test flight. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

The E-2D is the latest variant of the E-2 AEW aircraft equipped with an advanced radar sensor and more powerful network-centric capabilities than its predecessor, providing unparalleled performance in modern-day action.

Entering the digital era, the Navy began inducting the latest variant in 2010 as a more cutting-edge upgrade to the E-2Cs. The transition of replacing all 75 of the latter’s units is expected to be completed by 2025. New features outfitted in the Advanced Hawkeye include entirely new avionics, improved engines, radars, and communications, and a redesign in its cockpit, further expanding the AEW aircraft’s “battlespace awareness, especially in the area of information operations delivering battle management, theater air, and missile defense, and multiple sensor fusion capabilities in an airborne system,” as Northrop explained via its website.

These advances provide warfighters with the necessary situational awareness to compress the time between initial awareness and active engagement,” it added.

E-2D Advanced Hawkeye Through The Years

As previously stated, Northrop began producing and delivering the fourth E-2 variant in 2010, with Delta One performing its first E-2D carrier landing aboard the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) in February.

By September 2013, the Office of the Secretary of Defense had approved the E-2D for full-rate production, setting the Navy’s aim for an initial operational capability by 2015.

In 2021, the Navy announced its plans to upgrade its existing fleet of E-2D to extend its command-and-control aircraft for at least three more decades.

The upgrades would be conducted through a “delta system software configuration,” each taking four to five years to complete, including enhancement on the aircraft’s “cockpit avionics, enhancements to mission systems, communication capabilities, and cybersecurity.”

The E-2D advanced Hawkeye measures about 17.6 meters (57.9 feet) in length, 24.6 m (80.7 ft) in wingspan, and weighs about 18,363 kilograms (20.2 tons) when empty. It is fitted with two Rolls-Royce T56-A-427A Turboprop engines that generate 5,100 shaft horsepower each, enabling the AEW to reach a maximum speed of 300+ knots and a service ceiling of 37,000 ft (11.2 kilometers) manned by five crew members, including two pilots, three mission system operators.

Operational History

The first E-2 variant, E-2A, entered service in 1964 and made its maiden deployment aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) a year later. It saw action, providing electronic “eyes of the fleet” over Vietnam during the multi-year conflict.

In the 1980s, the Hawkeye had directed two F-14 Tomcats in an intercept mission during Operation El Dorado Canyon.

Its third version, the E-2Cs, participated in the Persian Gulf War in the 1990s, providing command and control support to aerial warfare and land-assault missions. Around this period, the AEW aircraft also supported other service branches and governmental agencies, including the US Coast Guard, the US Customs Service, and US federal and police forces during anti-drug operations. However, it was short-lived following a fatal mishap in August 1990, which prompted the Coast Guard to return its borrowed E-2Cs to the Navy. The US Customs Service also discontinued using its borrowed units shortly after.

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Two US Navy Grumman E-2C Hawkeye soaring over Mount Fuji, 2007. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Nonetheless, the E-2C Hawkeye took center stage during Operation Desert Storm, which played a critical role in guiding air operations. Likewise, in other significant military operations, such as Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom—the E-2C aircraft had steered various battle and airspace management missions such as ground assaults, close-air support coordination, combat search and rescue control, and communication relay mediator between land and naval forces.

By the mid-2000s to early 2010s, the transition between E-2Cs and E-2Ds gradually began, with pilots training to use the more advanced Hawkeye around mid-2010. The first operational E-2D aircraft was deployed aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) in 2015.

Apart from the US, the E-2 Hawkeyes were also exported to the international armed forces of Egypt, France, Israel (former), Japan, Mexico (bought from Israel), Singapore (former), and Taiwan.