August 2020 | Content by George Riebling, NAPMA Deputy General Manager

The “F” Means Final

In November 2019, the NAPMO Nations approved and the NAPMA General Manager subsequently signed a contract with Boeing to perform the last planned major modernisation programme for the NATO E-3A fleet – the so-called Final Lifetime Extension Programme or FLEP. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Boeing International President Sir Michael Arthur commemorated this historic event with a ceremonial contract signing at Melbroek AB, Belgium.

Boeing International President Sir Michael Arthur and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
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The most important word in the programme’s name is “Final.” After nobly serving the Alliance with world class Battle Management, Command and Control and Surveillance more than 35 years, the NAPMO Nations, in coordination with the North Atlantic Council, will inject one more shot of adrenaline into the NE-3A in order to ensure the platform’s operational viability through 2035. In the meantime, NATO’s Alliance Future Surveillance and Control (AFSC) project will continue to work towards identifying capabilities that will succeed NATO AWACS in the 2035 timeframe while avoiding potential capability gaps. The end isn’t quite nigh, but we can certainly see it coming.

After delivering a new glass cockpit and a next-generation IFF interrogator under the nearly-completed Follow-on Upgrade Programme – or FUP – the FLEP will focus exclusively on upgrades to the mission system in line with the NAEW&C Force’s prioritized operational requirements. As with any major acquisition programme, the scope of FLEP is constrained by available resources and, no, the Force sadly won’t get everything it asked for on its Christmas list. Instead, the FLEP will target critical capabilities required to keep the platform operationally viable through its planned sunset date.

Under FLEP, the NE-3A will receive mandatory upgrades to its Link 16 capabilities, cryptographic devices, and UHF and VHF radios. As the NE-3A continues to transform into a more capable Multi-Domain Command and Control asset, the Inmarsat capability fielded under FUP will be improved giving the operators more than three times their current available bandwidth enabling, among other things, the ability to ingest Ground Moving Target Indicator data from other platforms like NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance. The mission system computing hardware – to include larger Situation Display Consoles with much higher resolution – will be completely updated. The Electronic Support Measures sub-system will receive long-overdue upgrades to its computer processors that will enable more effective analysis of data received from enemy emitters. With the fielding of these upgrades by early 2027, the NATO AWACS fleet will continue to serve as the Alliance’s most critical “owned and operated” military asset.

From left to right: Brigadier General Michael Gschossmann (NAPMA General Manager); Sir Michael Arthur (Boeing International President), NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Major General Joerg Lebert (NAEW&C Force Commander).
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