The U.S. Air Force awarded Rockwell Collins a contract valued $17 million for full-rate production of Diminishing Manufacturing Sources Replacement of Avionics for Global Operations and Navigation (DRAGON) for the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) E-3 airframe. Overall, the upgrades increase aircraft capabilities and reduce maintenance costs; besides eliminating the need for E-3’s navigator, dropping the crew size from four to three. It also adds a Mode-5 identification friend-or-foe (IFF) capability. This contract provides for the fabrication and delivery of Rockwell Collins B-Kit items, installation and software and associated ancillary items, to be installed on 25 AWACS aircraft.
AWACS DRAGON seeks to modernize the E-3’s cockpit by replacing most analog indicators with modern digital multicolor graphic displays. Nearly all of the 1970s-vintage avionics are being replaced with updated subsystems that comply with today’s air traffic management standards. It leaves the E-3’s systems like engines, airframe, and mission systems intact. The effort includes digital satellite communications (SATCOM); modern flight management system; and digital cockpit with five glass display screens for engine, navigation and situational awareness data. It also includes weather radar that can predict wind shear; enhanced ground proximity warning system; and digital flight deck audio distribution system.
The Boeing E-3 Sentry is an American airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft developed by Boeing. E-3s are commonly known as AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System). Derived from the Boeing 707, it provides all-weather surveillance, command, control, and communications, and is used by the United States Air Force, NATO, Royal Air Force, French Air and Space Force, and Royal Saudi Air Force. The E-3 is distinguished by the distinctive rotating radar dome (rotodome) above the fuselage. Production ended in 1992 after 68 aircraft had been built. In 1996, Westinghouse Electric’s Defense & Electronic Systems division was acquired by Northrop Corporation, before being renamed Northrop Grumman Mission Systems.
In 2009, the USAF, in cooperation with NATO, entered into a major flight deck avionics modernization program in order to maintain compliance with worldwide airspace mandates. The program, called DRAGON, was awarded to Boeing and Rockwell Collins in 2010. Collins. Drawing on their Flight2 Flight Management System (FMS), almost all the avionics were replaced with more modern digital equipment from Rockwell Collins. Main upgrades include a Digital Audio Distribution System, Mode-5/ADS-B transponder, Inmarsat & VDL datalinks, and a Terrain Avoidance and Warning System (TAWS). The centerpiece flight deck hardware consists of five 6×8 color graphics displays and two color CDUs. DRAGON layed the foundation for subsequent upgrades including GPS M-Code, Iridium ATC, and Autopilot. USAF DRAGON Production began in 2018.