New interrogation system installed on AWACS, and more in pipeline

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. — Out with the old, in with the new — at least that’s the case for the existing interrogation system found on E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft.

The AWACS Next Generation Identification Friend or Foe program office here recently completed the first installation of the new AN/UPX-40 system, which also brings new enhancements, onto an operational AWACS at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.

“This operational installation marks a huge milestone for the AWACS program,” said Nick Grudziecki, NGIFF deputy program manager. “And it’s only the first of many.”

The Air Force has a fleet of 31 E-3 AWACS aircraft, all of which are slated to receive the upgrade.

The radar and computer subsystems on AWACS can gather and present real-time, detailed battlefield information. The radar, when coupled with an identification friend or foe interrogation system, can detect, identify and track enemy and allied low-flying aircraft by eliminating ground clutter signals that confuse other radars. That information can then be used to direct fighter-interceptors toward enemy targets.

The AN/UPX-40 system is replacing the AN/APX-103C model and is unique to AWACS; the new IFF system retains legacy capabilities, but also includes new Mode 5 Interrogation enhancements.

“The UPX-40 dramatically improves the detection of weak signals or maneuvering targets at maximum range and improves detection of targets at all ranges,” Grudziecki said. “The new interrogation capabilities also provide faster detection of friendly targets.”

The NGIFF development program began in 2008 after the National Security Agency mandated a Mode 5 upgrade to ensure access to airspace and reliable combat identification. After successfully reaching a Milestone C decision in 2012, a production contract was awarded to Telephonics Corp., resulting in the first delivery in fiscal 2015.

According to Grudziecki, eight more installations are planned by year’s end, moving closer to the Air Force’s goal of 31.

However, the $60 million IFF upgrade is part of a much larger AWACS modernization effort known as Block 40/45.

Block 40/45 represents a revolutionary change for AWACS and worldwide joint command and control, battle management and wide-area surveillance, according to the Air Force’s AWACS factsheet. It is the most significant counter-air battle management improvement in the Combat Air Force’s tactical C2 history. The modernization will replace current 1970s vintage mission computing and displays with an open system and up-to-date commercial-off-the-shelf hardware and software.

“The role of the E-3 is to carry out airborne surveillance and command, control and communication functions for both tactical and air defense forces,” said Lt. Col. Chris Williams, E-3 Netcentric Capabilities Branch materiel leader. “The interrogator is a vital piece of equipment required for AWACS to meet mission needs. With the successful installation of the first UPX-40 system, we are one step closer to equipping the fleet.”

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