Eyes of the fleet: Navy awaits arrival of powerful new radar-equipped aircraft.

Author:Magnuson, Stew
 
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* The Navy's new E-2D Advanced Hawkeye surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft has a powerful new radar.

Exactly how powerful no one will say.

"It can probably watch the pistachios pop in Iran," said a Lexington Institute analyst.

But the Navy may have to wait awhile before it receives the upgraded version of the E-2 family. While development of the air craft is on track, and two test versions of the plane have been delivered and have passed 1,000 hours of flight time, the Pentagon and Congress for budgetary reasons have slowed down its delivery pace.

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The result will be an estimated delay of 12 to 24 months before the Navy can begin to integrate the E-2D into the fleet, according to the Government Accountability Office in a recent assessment of the Pentagon's major weapons acquisition programs.

Rebecca Grant, who recently wrote a report on the aircraft for the Lexington Institute, said she would not characterize the program as being "off track," but any further cuts would push delivery back and increase the per unit cost of the aircraft.

Costs can mount when a new aircraft transitions from low-rate to full-rate production, Grant said. Congress cut funding for one aircraft in the 2009 budget. The Pentagon chopped a second that was slated for 2010.

The slowdown means technicians and managers will be in place without enough work. The Navy may have to go back to suppliers of the subsystems to renegotiate contracts since such items must be procured years in advance, Grant said.

"That always worries industry and program managers when that happens," she said in an interview.

"It's hard to manage a program well on terms favorable to the government when the program whiplashes around," Grant wrote in the report.

GAO agreed. The delay may result in a 20 percent increase in the per unit cost of the Hawkeye. It now totals $208 million per aircraft, up from $190 million in 2003 when development began.

The delivery pace was one factor that led to a Nunn-McCurdy breach in June, according to press reports. The Navy notified Congress that the program had exceeded 25 percent of its 2003 baseline estimate. The news came just as the program had passed its milestone C review, which means the technology is working as promised and Northrop can move ahead with low rate production. The office of the secretary of defense, meanwhile, has allowed to program to go forward despite the overruns.

So far, there is not any talk of reducing the total...

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