Due to one pilot’s incredible mistake, Taiwan’s Air Force recently had to scrap one of its very expensive E-2 Hawkeye surveillance planes. The Air Force wants to buy six new E-2 Hawkeyes at a price of up to $660 million each, making this small propeller plane a lot more expensive than even a brand new Airbus A380 superjumbo airliner.
Taiwan’s Air Force recently announced that it would have to scrap one of its six expensive Grumman E-2 Hawkeye early warning airplanes after it belly landed and skidded off the runway at a military airport on November 25, 2022. The Air Force said the incident was likely a case of human error, as there were no defects found in the landing gear — meaning the pilots must have simply forgotten to lower the landing gear as they approached the runway.
This kind of error is not uncommon in world aviation and is usually indicative of a culture of ignoring rules that stipulate that pilots have to verbally go through checklists when doing dangerous maneuvers like landing and taking off. If this was a case of the pilots being too used to landing to bother to check the checklist, then this was a very expensive mistake, as a single new E-2 Hawkeye can cost up to $660 million.
Compare that to the list price of the massive Airbus A380 superjumbo, which was $445 million before Airbus stopped building the giant because no one wanted to pay that much for a fuel-hungry behemoth that often had to fly with less than half its seats filled. When one considers that the E-2 Hawkeye is a small two-engine propeller plane, one starts to understand just how expensive and high-tech its built-in surveillance systems must be.
The only good thing about that breathtaking $660 million price tag per Hawkeye is that it refers to the brand new E-2D model fitted with all the top electronics options, whereas the model that crashed was an older E-2C model that cost a lot less. Taiwan designates its E-2C models as E-2T models, with the “T” standing for Taiwan. After some upgrades, its Air Force started calling them “E-2K” models.
Another interesting thing about the airframe that crashed is that Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper reports that its serial number is 2503. That means this is exactly the same E-2K that crashed in exactly the same way in 1997. At that time, the airplane was repaired by using a fuselage that was being produced for the U.S. Navy.
This time, the Air Force decided it can not repair the plane, as repairs would cost $65 million just to get it back to E-2K specifications. The problem is that the E-2K is becoming more and more redundant, as China builds more and more stealth planes like the J-20 stealth fighter. The new E-2D model is equipped with cutting-edge technology that makes it much more capable than the E-2K at tracking such stealthy objects.
For this reason, Taiwan’s Air Force has been asking for funding to buy the new E-2D version from Northrop Grumman, the American manufacturer of the Hawkeye range. The E-2D is called the “Advanced Hawkeye” and, depending on the options you choose, will set you back between $425 million and $660 million. With its advanced radar and electronics, the E-2D is capable of tracking objects with very small radar cross sections — such as stealth fighters, stealth drones and stealth missiles.
The plane can then guide fighters and missiles to intercept such airborne objects and ships. Flying at high altitude, the E-2D would also be able to act as a link in the “kill chain” that would be needed to guide Taiwan’s long-range anti-ship and ground-attack missiles to faraway targets.
These valuable missile guidance capabilities come on top of the E-2’s primary role, which is to electronically sense incoming missiles and jets as soon as they are launched, thereby giving early warning of attacks. The E-2 would also play a big role in coordinating large numbers of air and ground systems to effectively defend against incoming systems.
As such, the Taiwan Air Force’s remaining five E-2K planes are a very important part of the Taiwanese military’s ability to see the enemy coming, to coordinate an effective response, and to guide long-range strikes to their faraway targets.
If the Air Force does manage to get a few of the hot new E-2D models, it would make those capabilities a lot more powerful. And for that price tag, one would hope they’d come with a beeper that makes a heck of a noise if the pilot comes in to land but forgot to put the landing gear down.
Image: U.S. Navy photo by Lt. j.g. John A. Ivancic
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