The ageing E-3 AWACS fleet acquired a bit smaller final week, as the primary of 13 E-3s tp be retired this yr took off from Tinker Air Drive Base, Okla., for the final time.
E-3 Tail Quantity 0560 departed for the Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Drive Base, Ariz., on April 6, per week after the 552nd Air Management Wing hosted a retirement celebration with retired and Lively-Responsibility Airmen getting an opportunity to signal their names to the airframe, an Air Drive custom.
“It’s unhappy. It means a brand new method is coming, however it’s nonetheless unhappy as a result of now we have numerous nice recollections,” a former Airman informed native tv station KOLO. “We had a terrific mission again 20, 25 years in the past.”
With the retirement, the Air Drive’s AWACS fleet shrunk to 30 plane, on its method to beneath 18. Based mostly on the commercially defunct 707 airframe, E-3s are costly to keep up, their mission-capable charges plunging beneath 65 p.c lately.
Air Fight Command boss Gen. Mark D. Kelly referred to as the E-3s “unsustainable with out a Herculean effort” final yr, praising “miracle employee” maintainers for getting the plane to fly in any respect. Averaging over 40 years outdated, the AWACS fleet is among the many oldest within the Air Drive.
The Air Drive first introduced plans to retire 15 E-3s from Tinker in April 2022, however Congress paused the push with a provision within the 2023 Nationwide Protection Authorization Act approving retirements provided that USAF demonstrated progress buying its alternative, the E-7 Wedgetail.
The Air Drive needed to submit an acquisition technique for the Wedgetail earlier than it may retire 10 E-3s, and should award a contract for the procurement of E-7s earlier than it could retire three extra.
The Air Drive formally awarded a contract to Boeing for the E-7 Wedgetail in late February, clearing the best way for the AWACS retirements to start.
“Whereas some may even see the divestment as the tip of an period, the retirement of this plane marks the start of modernization for the 552nd,” Col. Keven Coyle, 552nd ACW commander, mentioned in a press release. “Regardless of a fleet discount the mission will stay the identical, offering worldwide administration in addition to command and management operations as required.”
In a launch, the Air Drive mentioned divesting the 13 E-3s will permit it to concentrate on sustaining the remaining airplanes. And elements harvested from the retired plane on the Boneyard might be recirculated, “offering a brief enchancment for plane availability.”
The Air Drive is hoping to have its first E-7 prepared for operational responsibility by 2027 and is endeavor a fast prototyping effort to make that occur, hoping to restrict any gaps in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance/command and management. All informed, the service needs to purchase 25 Wedgetails by 2032.