NATO’s AWACS fleet gets Leonardo airborne software-defined radio

Italy’s Leonardo will provide its new software-defined radio, the ‘SWave Airborne SDR SRT-800’ for NATO’s fleet of Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft as per a contract signed with Boeing.

Boeing is currently modernising the NATO AWACS fleet to maintain its operational viability through 2035 under the Final
Lifetime Extension Programme (FLEP).

Under the FLEP contract, Boeing will integrate the SWave Airborne SDR SRT-800 into the mission system of each NATO E-3A AWACS aircraft.

Secure connectivity

The SRT-800 radio system will provide the AWACS fleet with secure and cyber-resilient air-to-air and air-to-ground connectivity.

This form of security is becoming increasingly critical to all kinds of military operations as cyberattacks continue to be a clear and present threat for military forces worldwide.

The E-3A AWACS fleet is one of the few military assets that NATO owns and operates directly. Credit: NATO

The SRT-800 radio system will ensure that NATO’s AWACS fleet is able to communicate in a secure, cyber-resilient way until its out-of-service date in 2035.

Available for civil and military use, the low-size, weight and power requirements of the SRT-800 allows it to be fitted to most fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, manned or unmanned.

Ideal for retrofit, a single SRT-800 radio replaces a number of avionic units that have traditionally been separate units, including UHF/VHF radio, SATCOM, SINCGARS and a crypto device.

Easy reconfiguration

Since the Leonardo SRT-800 radios are software-defined, they can be completely re-configured when needed via a software update without having to modify the hardware.

This makes the radios extremely versatile as they can be modified simply and inexpensively.

Notably, the radios are compliant with the Software Communications Architecture (SCA) standard for maximum flexibility.

Originally designed as an elevated radar platform, the Boeing E-3A has evolved over 30 years to address the realities of geopolitical change.

NATO’s Airborne Early Warning and Control Force is an essential part of the Alliance’s air battle management capability and continues to remain operationally relevant through successive modernisation programmes.

The E-3A AWACS fleet is one of the few military assets that NATO owns and operates directly.

The AWACS aircraft are equipped with long-range radar and passive sensors capable of detecting air and surface contacts over large distances.

Mission calendar

The AWACS fleet conduct a wide range of missions from peacetime air policing, support to counter-terrorism, evacuation operations, embargo, initial entry and crisis response to the full spectrum of wartime missions.

Under normal circumstances, each NATO E-3A AWACS aircraft operates for about eight and a half hours, at 30,000 feet (9,150 metres) and covers a surveillance area of more than 120,000 square miles (310,798sqm). The aircraft can fly longer operations due to its air-to-air refuelling capability.

NATO AWACS aircraft also provide surveillance and situational awareness to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS in the Middle East theatre.

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