The E-2C Hawkeye is the Navy's all-weather, carrier-based tactical warning and control system aircraft.
The continuous improvements in early airborne radars by 1956 led to the concept of an airborne early warning and command and control aircraft. The first aircraft to perform this mission was the Grumman E-1 Tracer (a variant of the S-2 Tracker anti-submarine aircraft), which saw service from 1954 to 1964. The E-1's successor, the E-2 Hawkeye, was the first carrier-based aircraft designed from the outset for the all-weather airborne early warning and command and control function. Since replacing the E-1 in 1964, the Hawkeye has been the "eyes of the fleet." Since its combat debut during the Vietnam conflict, the E-2 has served the Navy around the world. Hawkeyes directed F-14 Tomcat fighters flying combat air patrol during the two-carrier battle group joint strike against terrorist-related Libyan targets in 1986. E-2Cs and AEGIS cruisers, working together, provided total air mass superiority over the American fleet. More recently, E-2Cs provided the command and control for successful operations during the Persian Gulf War, directing both land attack and combat air patrol missions over Iraq and providing control for the shoot-down of two Iraqi MIG-21 aircraft by carrier-based F/A-18s in the early days of the war. E-2 aircraft also have worked extremely effectively with U.S. law enforcement agencies in drug interdictions. The newest version of the Hawkeye, the E-2C, became operation in 1973.
The Hawkeye provides all-weather airborne early warning and command and control functions for the carrier battle group. Additional missions include surface surveillance coordination, strike and interceptor control, search and rescue guidance and communications relay. An integral component of the carrier air wing, the E-2C uses computerized sensors to provide early warning, threat analyses and control of counteraction against air and surface targets. It is a high-wing aircraft with stacked antennae elements contained in a 24-foot rotating dome above the fuselage. The peculiar airflow over and around the radar dome led to a multiple-surface tail unit.