The first E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft with aerial refuelling capability has joined the US Navy’s fleet at Naval Station Norfolk.

The upgraded aircraft was received by the navy’s Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 120, also known as Greyhawks. It will enhance the navy’s battlespace awareness.

In 2017, the E-2D aircraft tested its aerial refuelling capability with a KC-10 Extender of the US Air Force at NAS Patuxent River.

The aircraft is expected to achieve initial operating capability by next year.

Naval Air Force Atlantic commander rear admiral Roy Kelley said: “This is an important day for naval aviation as we continue to increase our capabilities and maintain our competitive edge in the skies.

“This capability will extend the endurance of Hawkeyes, increasing the navy’s battlespace awareness and integrated fire control, both from the air and the sea.”

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The US Navy intends to have two operational fleet squadrons of aerial refuelling capable E-2Ds by next year.

VAW-120 commanding officer commander Scott Wastak said: “Aerial refuelling capability is a game-changer for the E-2D community and future operations in the high-end fight. We will now begin to train instructor pilots and refuel with several different Navy and Air Force tanker aircraft, including F/A-18s.”

The squadron is a Fleet Replacement Squadron tasked with training naval aviators, flight officers, aircrewmen and maintainers to operate E-2 and C-2 aircraft.

In April this year, the US Navy awarded a contract modification worth $3.2bn to Northrop Grumman to deliver 24 E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne surveillance aircraft.