UK Sentries return to operational status after grounding


The United Kingdom has returned to service its Boeing E-3D Sentry Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) aircraft following a grounding order that was issued late last year, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) told IHS Jane’s on 12 January.

The RAF's six operational E-3D Sentry aircraft were grounded while the Ministry of Defence rectified recently discovered electrical problems. (IHS/Patrick Allen)The RAF’s six operational E-3D Sentry aircraft were grounded while the Ministry of Defence rectified recently discovered electrical problems. (IHS/Patrick Allen)

The MoD confirmed that “the Sentry force has returned to operational tasking”, though it did not say if this included all six platforms that were grounded in November 2016 following the discovery of electrical problems.

As reported at the time, the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) E-3D fleet was found to have an unspecified issue with some electrical wiring and cabin conditioning systems during a recent routine technical inspection, leading the MoD to temporarily suspend flight operations while it looked to get to the root of the problem.

While the MoD has not commented on the nature of the problems, media reports have pointed to a potential fire risk from underfloor wiring being susceptible to arcing. IHS Jane’s understands that a fix was found relatively quickly and that test flights began not long after.

The RAF’s E-3D fleet is operated by 8 Squadron out of RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire (although it has temporarily relocated to nearby RAF Coningsby while runway resurfacing takes place). Despite being a small fleet, the E-3Ds have seen a heavy tasking load of late, with missions over eastern Europe and the Middle East in support of NATO’s efforts to counter Russia and the Islamic State respectively. While the grounding order certainly limited the United Kingdom’s contributions to those missions in the short term, NATO had enough slack in the system with its own 16 aircraft, the four fielded by France, and the 31 operated by the US Air Force to more than cover this temporary shortfall in capability.

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