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Surveillance with the Hawkeye; Charles de Gaulle, 25 & 26 March 2019

Mission Clemenceau, part 3; Text and Photograph's: Alex van Noye & Joris van Boven

The French Navy has a total of three Grumman E-2C Hawkeye radar aircraft in use which can be deployed aboard the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. These E-2Cs are important for the deployment of the Rafales and are used as a flying radar station. Two E-2C Hawkeye aircraft are available during Mission Clemenceau.

The E-2C Hawkeye plays an important role on board of the Charles de Gaulle (CdG). The aircraft, which is equipped with two turboprop engines, is a flying radar station for the crew of the carrier and its aircraft. Lieutenant Fabien is a pilot on this radar aircraft and has made more than 3200 flight hours of which more than 1200 on the Hawkeye. The Lieutenant fulfilled his training in the past with both the French Air Force and the French Navy. Fabien indicates that the French Navy currently uses three E-2C Hawkeyes. These aircraft are assigned to the 4 Flottille. The planes are land based at Lorient/Lann-Bihoué in Brittany in western France. Originally the Hawkeye was in France only intended for the Airborne Early Warning (AEW) task. The aircraft carried out patrol flights at the extreme edge of the operating area of the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) to which the aircraft is assigned. In the event of an airborne threat, the E-2C Hawkeye crew will bring the Rafales on the right course in the interception role to intercept the airborne threat. In addition to the all-weather AEW tasks, the aircraft now also performs other tasks, explains Fabien. The Hawkeye also performs command & control functions for the CSG. The crew of the radar aircraft coordinates the surveillance of a sea area, it coordinates actions during attacks and interceptions, it leads the Search And Rescue (SAR) coordination and the aircraft is used as a flying radio operating station according to the Lieutenant. Fabien indicates that the Hawkeye is a versatile aircraft which plays a very important role for the CSG.

According to Fabien, the crew of the E-2C Hawkeye consists of five crew members. The composition of the crew is the same in France as in the United States. The crew of five is located in the cockpit and in the Combat Information Center (CIC) according to Fabien. The captain and the co-pilot are seated in the cockpit. In the CIC section are the other three crew members located explained Fabien. These crew members, are; the CIC Officer (CICO) who acts as the mission commander, the Radar Operator (RO)

who is responsible for the radar system and finally the Air Control Officer (ACO) who is responsible for radio communication during a mission. The Lieutenant indicates that the CIC has three consoles facing towards port (left). In practice, the CICO, RO and ACO all work in radar observation and air control roles. Due to the long mission duration, of sometimes over twelve hours, the CIC was equipped with a toilet during the design of the E-2C Hawkeye. Each crew member must qualify during the Hawkeye training program to fulfill its role. There are specific trainings available for all functions on board, Fabien explains. Each crew member must then participate in simulated scenarios. According to the Lieutenant, these scenarios can consist of Combat Search And Rescue (CSAR) scenarios, Airborne Battlefield Command and Control (AB3C) scenarios and Anti Surface Warfare (ASUW) scenarios.

On board of the CdG there are currently 2.5 crews for the Hawkeye during Mission Clemenceau, says Fabien. He adds that three complete crews will be available within now and a few weeks when the training of these people is completed. The CdG currently has two E-2C Hawkeyes from the French Navy on board. One of these Hawkeyes has both a French and American flag on the nose and tail of the aircraft. Fabien indicates that this reflects the smooth running cooperation with the US Navy. The Lieutenant says that an American crew member is currently active at the 4 Flottille. Both countries try to learn as much as possible from each other and try to work together as much as possible when it comes to the Hawkeye actions. This American participated with the French crew during missions over Syria and Iraq during Operation Inherent Resolve. According to the Lieutenant, this is not a problem, because this operation is being carried out by a coalition, in which France is taking part, and which is led by the United States. To participate in military operations, this American must only have the permission of his government. For the rest, he will just train with the French crew of the E-2C. This is also not a problem, Fabien explains, because both the French and the US Navy have the same training standard to train crews on the E-2C Hawkeye. Fabien indicates that he is also part of the exchange program with the United States Navy. Normally he is stationed in Singapore, where he works at his post as an exchange officer. He is an instructor on the E-2C at VAW-120 in Norfolk in the United States, which is an American training unit for the crews.

During Operation Chammal, the Hawkeye is also deployed at the CdG. The preparation for a Command and Control mission starts the day before the actual deployment according to Fabien. The preparation takes place with a team of two pilots and three CIC inspectors, an Intel officer and a non-commissioned officer. The unit aboard the Hawkeye manages the airspace of the area of responsibility explains the Lieutenant. They coordinate all air movements and the crew supplies radar images to the Rafales and the Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) of the coalition. Fabien says that the Hawkeye is a very important tool for the fleet when deploying the Rafales from CdG. The aircraft is so important that France is already working on the successor to the existing Hawkeye fleet. Fabien explains that in France it is planned to purchase three new E-2D Hawkeye aircraft somewhere between 2026 and 2028. The actual order has not yet been placed, but it is clear that the fleet cannot do without these aircraft. The three current radar aircraft were delivered in 1998, 1999 and 2004. According to Fabien, these aircraft are ready for replacement by the time the E-2D is introduced. Until the actual replacement, the three aircraft will be modernized in a short term to be completely up to date again for deployment in the coming ten years. Fabien concludes by saying that he thinks it is fantastic to act as an envoy for France during the cooperation program with the USA.




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