By John E. Beaulieu
FRENCH E-2C PROGRAM MANAGER
In February 1986, the government of France decided to replace its aging aircraft carriers "Clemenceau" and "Foch" with a nuclear powered "Charles de Gaulle." The need for advance early warning (AEW) alternatives suddenly became a high priority for the French Ministry of Defense. Research focused on the adaptation of existing French assets for carrier use, the initiation of a new national AEW capability development program, and offshore procurement of an AEW aircraft that would be compatible with the unique features of the "Charles de Gaulle."
During the Summer of 1991, a joint U.S. Navy/French Navy Group II Hawkeye E-2C operational test program was held at the French Flight Test Center at Istres in southern France. The exercise demonstrated the E-2C's operational capabilities and confirmed that the aircraft could meet the French Navy's AEW requirements. Other AEW aircraft solutions were also assessed. In late 1993, the French government selected the baseline configuration Group II Hawkeye E-2C. In doing so, France joined Japan, Taiwan, Egypt and Singapore as a foreign military sales (FMS) customer for the E-2 platform. This proven and reliable asset will serve to protect France's investment in the "Charles de Gaulle" carrier vessel and its primary fighter aircraft, the "Rafale" and the "Super Étendard."
Following a mid-1994 in-country site survey, the government of France signed a contract with the U.S. government in April 1995 for two E-2C aircraft. The contract included line items for spare parts, support equipment, publications, training, a systems simulator, in-country technical support after aircraft delivery, as well as funding for program management and unique French requirements - a total package approach.
In March 1997, language training of French pilots, weapons systems officers, engineers and maintenance personnel commenced at the Defense Language Institute at San Antonio. During this same period, the two E-2C aircraft were being manufactured by Northrop Grumman Corporation for delivery to the U.S. Navy in mid-1998. After compulsory language training, French personnel were sent for specialized training at Northrop Grumman's facilities in St. Augustine, Fla., and Bethpage, N.Y., and other training sites in the United States starting in August 1997.
The training of nearly 150 French personnel was 100 percent successful - there were no washouts. This was due in large measure to the high caliber of French Navy personnel selected to form the nucleus of a new French E-2C Squadron. The training program was completed in October 1998 when, for the first time in the U.S. Navy's history, E-2C aircraft piloted by non-U.S. personnel were permitted to conduct 30 touch-and-go landings and more than 100 arrested landings on the USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier.
On Dec. 14, 1998, the first Hawkeye E-2C aircraft was ferried to France. The formal transfer of that aircraft, first to the French Ministry of Defense by the U.S. Navy, and then by the French Ministry of Defense to the French Navy took place Dec. 18, 1998. This historical occasion was marked by a ceremony hosted by the Chief of Staff of the French Navy Adm. Jean-Charles Levebre, assisted by Maj. Gen. Gérald Boisrayon, the deputy director of the General Delegation for Armament, which is the French military hardware procurement organization. The transfer ceremony was held at Lann-Bihoue Naval Air Station near the town of Lorient in Brittany on the west coast of France, the permanent home of the new French E-2C Squadron.
William A. Stussie, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition (Air Programs); Rear Adm. James Maslowski, director, Navy International Programs Office; "Casey" Bahr, former E2/C2 program manager (PMA-231); Cmdr. "Andy" Mohler, deputy E-2C program manager for foreign military sales; and John Beaulieu, French E-2C program manager represented the U.S. Navy at this transfer ceremony.
The second French E-2C aircraft was brought to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in late December 1998 for the onboard installation of a carrier vessel suitability testing instrumentation package. This work was completed in March and the aircraft was ferried to France by a joint Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Patuxent River /Force Warfare Test Squadron/French Flight Test Center crew. After an in-country functional check flight and inventory, the aircraft was formally transferred to the French government April 12.
The government of France has signed a letter of intent with the U.S. government for the purchase of long lead items necessary to produce a third E-2C aircraft. It is anticipated that a formal government-to-government contract for that aircraft will be signed in early 2001 to ensure its delivery by late 2003.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy will be providing various forms of follow-on support to the French Navy. FMS correspondence have either been signed or are about to be signed for an E-2C operational flight trainer (pilot simulator), an in-country airframe and engine depot maintenance capability, uninterrupted supply support (spare parts), a repair of repairable components service, various retrofit upgrades and for other services needed to ensure a fully operational E-2C squadron in France. To assist the French Navy in attaining that goal, an American E-2C weapon systems liaison officer and a team of 15 U.S. contractor technical assistance personnel have been assigned to NAS Lann-Bihoué for the next few years. Their mission is to advise the new French Navy E-2C Squadron as it polishes its recently acquired E-2C aircraft operation and maintenance skills.
The current value of the French government's purchases of materials and services from the U.S. Navy and managed by the E-2C Program Office (PMA-231) exceeds $835 million. The French E-2C Program is a foreign military sales success story.