US Navy seeks E-3D in-flight trainer for E-6B Mercury fleet

The US Navy seeks to procure a Boeing E-3D Sentry airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system for use as an in-flight trainer to reduce the wear on its E-6B Mercury command and control aircraft.

E-6B Mercury [Khalem Chapman]
The US Navy is seeking an in-flight trainer to reduce the unnecessary 'wear-and-tear' of its mission-ready Boeing E-6B Mercury command and control aircraft fleet. Khalem Chapman

The plan was revealed on October 28, when the US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) posted a contract notification on the US government’s beta.sam.gov website. The US Navy operates a 16-strong fleet of Boeing E-6B Mercury airborne command, control and communications (C3) systems, which conduct the service’s nuclear control mission. In the notification, NAVAIR outlined that the US Navy currently conducts all initial and recurring pilot training in mission-ready E-6Bs, which exposes aircraft to “unnecessary wear-and-tear and negatively [impacts] E-6B readiness and availability.”

In its notification, NAVAIR added that the “lack of a dedicated training aircraft increases the time required to train qualified aircrews needed to execute the E-6B mission. The purchase of an in-flight trainer aircraft will result in the reduction of 600 flight hours and 2,400 landings/cycles per year from the E-6B mission aircraft.”

The notification also identified requirements for a suitable in-flight trainer to fulfil the role, stating that the platform would need to be a Boeing 707-320 type aircraft. “[It] needs to be fitted with CFM-56 engines, capable of in-flight refuelling using the USAF boom refuelling method and have sufficient service life (hours and cycles) remaining in order to remain in service through 2038.”

E-3D Sentry AEW1 [MoD Crown Copyright]
NAVAIR identified the Boeing E-3D Sentry as the most suitable candidate to serve as an in-flight trainer for the US Navy's E-6B Mercury fleet. The Royal Air Force (RAF) will withdraw its remaining Sentry AEW1 aircraft in late 2022 and the platform fits the requirements listed in the contract notification. MoD Crown Copyright

The name of the contract notification outlines plans to purchase a Boeing E-3D Sentry, but it does not provide further specifics on the procurement of the platform. The Royal Air Force (RAF) is the sole operator of the E-3D variant and is currently drawing down its fleet ahead of its planned retirement in late 2022. As the UK is the only operator of the E-3D, it seems that the US Navy is certainly seeking to acquire one of the RAF’s outgoing airframes for use as an E-6B Mercury training device.