The U.S Navy deploys platforms and weapons systems of unmatched capabilities. There are no ships to match the power of the Nimitz and (soon to be deployed) Ford nuclear powered aircraft carriers. The continuously-improving Virginia-class attack submarine force is the best in the world. The Aegis ballistic missile defense system is evolving from a fleet defense capability to one that will provide a shield against long-range ballistic missiles. Tomahawk cruise missiles have demonstrated a critical first day of the war role in conflicts from Desert Storm to the Balkans and, most recently, Libya.
Now the U.S. Navy is about to multiply the power of its individual platforms and weapons systems through the exploitation of networking technologies. This year, the Navy will deploy its first operational carrier airborne early warning squadron with the new E-2D Hawkeye. While evolved from the venerable E-2C design which has supported the U.S. Navy as well as foreign militaries for decades, the Advanced Hawkeye marks a leap ahead in both avionics and mission systems. The new APY-9 radar is a two generation leap forward in capability. It will provide high quality surveillance and target track of multiple targets over both land and water. Equally important, the E-2D will deploy a command, control and communications suite that will allow it to support cooperative engagements involving a wide range of weapons systems, including those operated by other services. Other features of the Advanced Hawkeye such as digital cockpit and refueling capability will allow the system to remain aloft longer and in poor flying conditions.
Not only will the Hawkeye provide enhanced airborne surveillance for the carrier battle group, it will serve as a central node in what the Navy calls Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA). NIFC-CA will provide Engage-On-Remote and Over-The-Horizon air defense capability using networks of systems and sensors. To date, one of the significant limitations in both air and missile defense is the requirement in essence to co-locate engagement sensors with weapons systems. This is particularly problematic as cruise missiles become faster, aircraft become stealthier and ballistic missile threats proliferate. Employing the Advanced Hawkeye, NIFC-CA will allow a defensive missile to be launched from a platform or battery that cannot itself see the target. The ability to engage from over the horizon will dramatically increase the defensive envelope of current air defense systems. In addition, this means that platforms and defensive systems can be more widely dispersed. The E-2D’s ability to track multiple targets and to provide support not only the Navy’s systems but those deployed by the Army such as Patriot and THAAD can support a truly joint and combined, multi-layer, theater-wide air and missile defense capability. Just what the U.S. needs as it pivots to the Asia-Pacific region.
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