Archive for the 'E-2 Hawkeye' Tag

In June 2014, President Obama declared his intent to execute “targeted and precise” military operations in Iraq, and later Syria, in order to aid the Iraqi military in the destruction of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).[1] While the scope of those operations has evolved over the past several months, the identity of the forces—US naval ships, joint aircraft, and ground-based advisors—has remained constant.

In order to achieve the kind of “targeted and precise” military operations the president desires, drones and guided munitions will not be enough. Effective command and control is the crucial difference between success and failure. The skill of the Navy’s E-2 Hawkeye aviator is integral to this success.

Speed and Information

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu declared, “speed is the essence of war.”[2] Indeed, from ancient times to modernity, conflicts have been marked by a sharp increase in the speed of fires, effects, and maneuvers. While speed of platforms has driven technological change in the past, speed of information and reaction will drive the future of warfare in this century.

Along these lines, ISIS has proven incredibly adept. Their ability to harness social media and an indigenous intelligence network in Iraq and Syria has swollen their ranks. According to the Daily Beast, “on Twitter and in Facebook pages ISIS was making appeals as well as threats, attracting recruits and soliciting funding online.”[3] After US air strikes in Iraq in August 2014, “ISIS responded with a hashtag campaign…threatening Americans with retribution for the airstrikes.”[4]

ISIS is no ordinary enemy, and yesterday’s military tactics do not guarantee victory over such violent, furtive extremists.

American success in current and future operations hinges on skilled information management and command and control (C2). Military planners and operators must consider how each piece of information gets from one place to another on the battlefield, and how this information affects or is affected by the enemy. Finally, while we may consider extremist groups like ISIS to be “asymmetric enemies,” we must not discount our own asymmetric military advantages and the platforms that employ them.

Asymmetry and Decentralization

Asymmetric warfare is typically defined as “war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly.”[5] History is rampant with examples of smaller, less well-equipped forces using unconventional tactics to defeat much larger, powerful militaries. It is often more difficult for strategists and military planners to take on an insurgency than a conventional force.

While German Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke was famous for claiming, “no campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy,” military forces are judged on how adequately they respond to changes to their plan. As advances in the technology of platforms and weaponry have increased the pace of our tactics, extremist groups like ISIS have taken advantage of our inability to quicken the pace of our information management.

In fact, rather than taking steps to improve C2 responsiveness, military planners and commanders have adopted measures requiring almost every possible interaction in the battlespace to be communicated and approved directly by military commanders. This centralization of authority is antithetical to combatting a nimble foe such as ISIS.

Military commanders are justifiably concerned with the public relations implications of operations by a large American military force against smaller extremist groups often interspersed with the local population. However, the drive to try to prevent mistakes through over-centralization has bred a toxic “zero defect” mentality and led to a Soviet-style, centralized military bureaucracy that unnecessarily slows tactical military operations, thus allowing smaller extremist groups like ISIS to thrive inside of our “OODA Loop.”

We do not have to operate this way. In order to achieve the kind of information management required to defeat groups like ISIS, commanders must be willing to delegate command and control responsibilities to competent subordinate agents. Fortunately, the United States military has the ability to perform the kind of tactical C2 required to accomplish this task. Platforms such as the E-2 Hawkeye are practiced and proficient in this area, and have proven themselves in more than two decades of overland conflict.

Send in the Hawkeyes

E-2 aviators are experts at employing the real-time, integrated warfighting capabilities of the Carrier Air Wing. The E-2 Hawkeye is the only airborne platform in the naval arsenal—and indeed, one of only a few joint assets—with the ability to fuse information and direction from tactical aviation, intelligence, and higher headquarters into actionable, responsive communications to ships, aircraft, and ground-based units alike.

In order to execute effective “targeted and precise” airstrikes, military commanders must have an exceptionally high level of battlespace awareness. While tactical aircraft such as the F/A-18 and F-15 provide ordnance, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft such as the MQ-1B provide real-time video, and Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTAC) provide close control of aircraft and ISR assets, only the E-2 Hawkeye consistently trains to and competently integrates all of these assets to achieve commander’s intent.

The E-2 and its cadre of aircrew have evolved to become the airborne integrator of both naval and joint combined arms. With reliable internet-based chat capability and more than two decades of direct interface with joint stakeholders at the Combined Air and Space Operations Center (CAOC), the Hawkeye has been instrumental in achieving commander’s intent during recent operations such as IRAQI FREEDOM, ENDURING FREEDOM, and INHERENT RESOLVE. Much more than an Air Intercept Control (AIC) platform, the E-2 is invaluable as the principal C2 platform for the CVW, CSG, and combined force commander.

Context, Command, and Control

Crucially, E-2 aviators provide commanders with battlespace context. They collect inputs from TACAIR, ISR, and ground-based platforms to help paint a more accurate picture of operations. E-2 aviators constantly synthesize information from all sources to help answer the critical questions, “Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?”

Inside the aircraft, E-2 aviators communicate with tactical aircraft via Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) voice—both secure and non-secure—and Link-16 “J-voice;” they communicate with ISR assets via internet-based chat; they communicate with JTAC and other ground-based personnel via High Frequency (HF) and UHF voice, satellite communications (SATCOM), and internet-based chat; and finally, they communicate with the joint force commander and his watch-floor via SATCOM and internet-based chat.

E-2 sensors provide real-time Link-16 and blue force tracking data to commanders and watch floors. Aircrew utilize internet-based chat and SATCOM to provide constant updates to the aerial refueling (AR) picture, coordinate real-time changes to TACAIR and ISR tasking, and provide communications relay between tactical aircraft and the ground-based personnel they support.

For instance, an E-2 aviator can receive preliminary information, or “tipper,” of an enemy high-value individual (HVI) from an ISR platform via internet-based chat, pass targeting information to nearby tactical aircraft via secure UHF voice, and communicate both pieces of information to the appropriate CAOC watch-floor officers via internet-based chat and SATCOM in order to approve either a kinetic strike against the individual or the diversion of an ISR platform to the area to gather crucial intelligence.

As aircraft are diverted to the area, E-2 aircrew continue to maintain and communicate battlespace awareness, ensuring supporting aircraft remain clear of enemy surface-to-air threats, no fly areas, or other sensitive sites. They ensure the route of flight is deconflicted, supporting aircraft are all able to communicate clearly on a radio frequency, and any potential fratricide threats are minimized or eliminated.

The true value of the E-2 in operations against extremist groups is in their ability to quickly synthesize commander’s intent—such as neutralizing extremist HVIs—with tactical action. In recent operations, the E-2 Hawkeye is one of the only assets to communicate directly with all battlespace stakeholders on a daily basis. This can be an invaluable source of expertise and access for the combined force commander.

The Future Battlespace

For airborne C2 platforms like the Hawkeye, the truest measure of effectiveness is reach, not range. Aircrew are capable of effectively managing the battlespace from hundreds of miles away with radios, internet-based chat, and datalinks. With aircraft carriers routinely operating from hot spots in the Arabian Gulf, Northern Arabian Sea, and various Pacific locales, E-2 support is hardly limited by their basing aboard ship. Military planners must include E-2 operations as part of theater Special Instructions (SPINS) and operational plans.

In the fight against violent extremism, smart bombs are insufficient. In order to provide successful “targeted and precise” airstrikes, as well as future military operations against violent extremism, smart munitions must be combined with smart ISR and smart command and control to provide rapid, lethal effects without the bureaucratic delay of unnecessary centralization. By leveraging the capabilities of the E-2 Hawkeye with the expertise of its aircrew, military commanders and planners can take a definitive step in the application of American airpower in the fight against ISIS.


[1] “Remarks by the President on the Situation in Iraq.” 19 June 2014.

[2] Sun Tzu. The Art of War. Penguin Classics: New York, NY. 28 April 2009.

[3] Siegel, Jacob. “ISIS is Using Social Media to Reach YOU, Its New Audience.” The Daily Beast. 31 August 2014.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Asymmetric warfare.” Accessed online 18 November 2014.

Project CADILLAC (Part I)

Ed note: Everything has a beginning and that beginning is usually quite humble compared to present conditions. Consider, a small spring at the headwaters of the Madison River in Montana is the source of the mighty Missouri River which itself empties into ol’ man river — the Mississippi, all of which drain the better part of the country described in the Louisiana Purchase. Likewise, current day Airborne Early Warning and battle management, as we know it, sprang from humble beginnings and the collaborative efforts of the private and public sectors and borne in the urgency of war. Herewith then, the story of that effort is told as we begin the observance of the Hawkeye’s 50th Anniversary. – SJS

There is an arrogance permeating our culture such that it is widely believed that the (fill in the blank with the latest technological wonder) is (1) fairly recent in invention and (2) anything that preceded was hopelessly crude and unsophisticated, if it even existed or could have been possibly conceived in an earlier age. Serious students of history, particularly technological history, will assert though, the degree of inventiveness and technical complexity evidenced by our predecessors is indeed extraordinary, especially when put in context of the extent of knowledge in a particular field at the time. The story of airborne radar, and airborne early warning radar in particular, is one of the signatory lessons in this vein.

Radar was not unknown in the early days of WWII – indeed the story of how the CHAIN HOME radar stations, linked to coordination centers who in turn guided and directed Leigh-Mallory’s “big wing” fighter tactics is well known. The US Navy was already working to incorporate radar into its surface ships to permit gunnery under all weather/day-night conditions and meet navigational needs. Radar “expanded the battle space” (in the current parlance) but soon encountered problems – not the least of which was the curvature of the earth and the haven it provided to low flying aircraft. The solution, raise the radar antenna by mounting the radar to an aircraft, was fraught with a number of challenges.

Chief among those hurdles was the radar wave itself. The early search radars were low frequency (HF-band) with a long PRF (pulse repetition frequency) which provided the necessary range and were generally easy to generate. The down side was the requirement for large, very large antennas. Even later radars with parabolic antennas and operating at higher frequencies still tended to be very large. Airborne radar would need to be a microwave radar that provided high power with a smaller antenna. Simple in thought, difficult in execution. Yet efforts were underway on both sides of the Atlantic to meet this problem. The solution would be a device called a magnetron – specifically, a cavity magnetron.

Simple two-pole magnetrons were developed in the 1920s by Albert Hull at General Electric’s Research Laboratories (Schenectady, New York), as an outgrowth of his work on the magnetic control of vacuum tubes in an attempt to work around the patents held by Lee DeForest on electrostatic control. The two-pole magnetron, also known as a split-anode magnetron, had relatively low efficiency. The cavity version (properly referred to as a resonant-cavity magnetron), the path British scientists and engineers were working, proved to be far more useful.

In 1940, at the University of Birmingham in the UK, John Randall and Dr. Harry Boot produced a working prototype similar to Hollman’s cavity magnetron, but added liquid cooling and a stronger cavity. Randall and Boot soon managed to increase its power output 100-fold. Instead of giving up on the magnetron due to its frequency inaccuracy (in essence, what the Luftwaffe did), they instead sampled the output signal and synced their receiver to whatever frequency was actually being generated. An early 6kW version, built by GECRL (Wembley, UK) and given to the U.S. government in September 1940, was called “the most valuable cargo ever brought to our shores” (see Tizard Mission). At the time the most powerful equivalent microwave-producer available in the US (a klystron- basically a linear beam tube) had a power of only ten watts.

In the meantime, back in the US, work was underway on electronic relays as a means of extending the range of radar. The idea was to take multiple radars, deploy them at the limit of line-of-sight ranges and link those images into one centralized picture on the flagship. That line-of-sight range, of course, could be extended if the extended range platforms, or pickets, were airborne. As early as 14 Aug 1942, the MIT Radiation Lab (MIT-RL) demonstrated this capability using television equipment borrowed from RCA (actually with assistance from National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) via a contract negotiated with RCA) and an experimental radar on the roof of another building. Further development and refinement led to the successful relay of radar signals to a receiver at East Boston Airport in May 1943 from an aircraft operating over Nantucket Island at 10,000 ft at a range of about 50 nm. In July 1943, the relay radar, the AN/APS-14 was demonstrated to naval officers at the East Boston Airport and a short film developed for COMINCH which was subsequently followed with a request to extend the range to 100 nm.

By the end of December 1943 even with the successful extension of range to 100 nm, however, there was no decision to proceed with production of the AN/APS-14 and there was movement to cancel the project. The following month though, the Navy proposed to develop an AEW system that had as part of the set-up, a high-power relay teamed with a high-power, microwave radar (enabled by the British magnetron). MIT-RL was awarded the task and Project CADILLAC was underway.

To Be Continued

By any measure, fifty years is remarkable. Birthdays, reunions, wedding anniversaries – in all of these the marker set at fifty years is justifiably prominent and noteworthy.

For aircraft — especially those in carrier aviation, it is signatory.

This month the E-2 Hawkeye will celebrate 50 years, starting with the first flight of the prototype, the YW2F-1 (BuNo 148147) on 21 October 1960. That was the start of a run of aircraft that looks to continue well into the first quarter of the 21st Century in the form of the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. From that first flight through today, the Hawkeye has shared the flight deck with the A-4, A-6, A-7,C-1, EA-3B, EKA-3B, EA-6A, F-4, F-8, F-14, KA-6, S-2, S-3, and WF/E-1B – all of which are now sitting in boneyards. It currently shares real estate with a variety of Hornets, the soon to be replaced EA-6B Prowler and the venerable COD and first cousin, C-2A(R) Greyhound. Still to come are the F-35 and UCAV-N. Such longevity is testimony as much to the inherent flexibility of the original design as it is to budgetary realities and bureaucratic bias. Nevertheless, such milestones should not pass with little or no recognition – and of course, around these parts that is not an option. So, between now and the 21st, we will be posting a variety of articles, beginning with updates of an earlier series on Project CADILLAC, that started it all. Along the way I hope that a new appreciation for the aircraft and those who have and currently are flying and fixing the Hawkeye will emerge.

Stay tuned — there’s much more to come…

Crossposted at

2014 Information Domination Essay Contest