The Pentagon's decision follows the E-2D's successful completion of a 10-month-long evaluation conducted by the Navy, at the conclusion of which the aircraft was declared "operationally suitable and effective."
The successor to Northrop's successful E-2C Hawkeye, the E-2D is an airborne early warning, battlefield management, and command and control aircraft. As the Navy's proverbial eye in the sky, its mission in a fight is to use its powerful radars to map and control everything that happens in a tactical airspace, to identify targets, and to "quarterback" U.S. planes as they engage these targets.
To date, some 20 E-2Ds have been, or are in the process of being, manufactured for the Navy.
With full-rate production now authorized, Northrop expects to fill out its full complement of 75 orders (i.e,. 55 additional aircraft) over the next 10 years. The first of these planes is expected to be declared operationally capable and to be officially deployed in 2015.