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Air Force E-3 AWACS aircraft equipped with new Block 40/45 hardware and software are ready for real-world operations, announced service officials on Aug. 15, 2014. Here, an E-3 rests on a flight line in Southwest Asia. Air Force photo by TSgt. Dennis J. Henry Jr.

Air Force E-3 AWACS aircraft equipped with new Block 40/45 hardware and software are ready for real-world operations, according to a service release. Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mike Hostage declared initial operational capability for the new E-3G Block 40/45 configuration on July 28, states the Aug. 15 release from Tinker AFB, Okla., home to most of the Air Force’s 31-airplane AWACS fleet. "This modification represents the most significant upgrade in the 35-plus year history of the E-3 AWACS and greatly enhances our crewmembers' ability to execute the command and control mission while providing a building block for future upgrades," said Col. Jay Bickley, Tinker’s 552nd Air Control Wing commander. IOC means there are enough Block 40/45 airframes on hand, along with trained aircrews, maintainers, and spare parts, to sustain combat operations, if called upon. The wing has taken delivery of six E-3Gs, two of which have deployed to support counterdrug operations, said Gordon Fitzgerald, the 552nd ACW's requirements director. The entire AWACS fleet is scheduled to receive the Block 40/45 upgrade by Fiscal 2020, he said. Boeing is the prime contractor for this work. The Air Force proposed retiring seven E-3s in Fiscal 2015, but so far, Congress has not agreed to this plan in its deliberations on next fiscal year’s defense legislation.