The future E-10A MC2 (Multi-sensor Command & Control) program was conceived as a fusion of Northrop Grumman’s advanced Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP) Wide-Area Surveillance (WAS) radar and Battle Management Command and Control (BMC2) mission suite into a modified passenger jet (likely a 767), creating a successor to both the E-3 AWACS air surveillance and E-8 JSTARS ground surveillance and SIGINT (signals intelligence) /communications relay planes. This multi-duty approach provides flexibility, but also invites potential shortages and overuse unless the system can be procured in sufficient numbers or supplemented with less expensive options (see “Brittle Swords: Low-Density, High-Demand Assets” [PDF] for a deeper discussion).
The entire program could easily have been worth $10 billion. On February 23/07, however, the firm received notice from the U.S. Air Force that the E-10A MC2 Weapon System Integration (WSI) program was being formally ended. So, what now for the E-10’s technology? And why is this still relevant in 2010?
The E-10A has been on thin ice for some time, and no funding was included for it in the FY 2008 budget request. In March 2007, Northrop Grumman admitted that planning had begun to wind up the program, following an initial design review held the week of February 12-16/07. The USAF’s shut-down of the program rendered that somewhat moot. Subsequent closeout of any critical action items was scheduled to be complete by the end of May 2007.
Still, all is not lost.
When the E-10 was canceled, the MP-RTIP AESA radar was already slated to equip future Block 40 version of the RQ-4B Global Hawks, and there were thoughts that it may also equip future E-8 J-STARS upgrades or successors. MP-RTIP testing took place on Rutan’s unusual-looking Proteus.
Since then, progress has been made toward getting the MP-RTIP WAS radar deployed on future E-8 JSTARS upgrades. It was also slated for NATO’s Airbus A321-based AGS ground surveillance system, before that program was cut to just 5 MP-RTIP equipped RQ-4B Global Hawk 40 UAVs.
The BMC2 subsystem, which also received substantial investments, will be harder to transfer. Integrating it into E-8 or E-3 upgrades is likely to be challenging, as it was designed in the expectation of a new set of systems and many of them won’t be available unless the older aircraft receive a truly major overhaul encompassing many of their expensive electronics, or BMC2 is redesigned to accommodate them.