A further two E-3B/G Sentry aircraft have taken off from Tinker AFB for the final time, having been flown from the Oklahoma base to Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona, to be placed in long-term storage as the USAF continues to drawdown its ageing airborne warning and control system (AWACS) fleet.
The two aircraft – comprising E-3B (77-0355/OK) and E-3G (80-0139/OK) – departed Tinker AFB for the final time on August 19 and August 28, respectively, with both being flown to the famous Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB, where they will be kept in long-term storage with the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG). These two aircraft were the ninth and tenth examples of the 13 active-duty E-3B/C/G Sentry aircraft that are to be retired this year as the USAF moves to redirect funds to the procurement and fielding of the type’s successor, the E-7A Wedgetail.
While the USAF recommended the retirement of 15 E-3s in its Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) budget, the US Congress only permitted the withdrawal of 13 aircraft. In its FY24 budget, the service is seeking to retire a further two airframes, which would leave the active-duty Sentry fleet standing at just 16 aircraft (almost half of what it was five years ago).
Having entered operational service in March 1977, the Sentry has provided the backbone of USAF airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) operations for almost five decades. The USAF is replacing this ageing fleet – which is becoming increasingly more obsolescent as its radar technology becomes more outdated – with 26 E-7As, which are expected to be fielded operationally for the first time from FY27. The service ordered its first two E-7As from Boeing on February 28 and serial production of the new fleet is scheduled to begin in FY25. The remaining 24 E-7As should be delivered to the USAF by FY32, though the service is looking to accelerate this.