UK Signs Contract to Purchase Five E-7 “Wedgetail” Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) Aircraft

The United Kingdom (UK) has signed a $1.98 Billion contract to purchase five E-7 “Wedgetail” Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft.

The deal was signed by Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. The new E-7 fleet will replace the current E-3D Sentry AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) aircraft and ensure the continued delivery of the UK’s AEW&C capability.

Named “Wedgetail” by the Australian Department for Defence, the E-7 aircraft can fly for long periods of time and manage the battlespace from the sky.

“The E-7 provides a technological edge in an increasingly complex battlespace, allowing our ships and aircraft to track and target adversaries more effectively than ever. This deal also strengthens our vital military partnership with Australia”, said Gavin Williamson.

“We will operate state-of-the-art F-35 jets and world-class Type-26 warships, and this announcement will help us work even more closely together to tackle the global threats we face”, he added.

“Today’s announcement about the procurement of five E-7 ‘Wedgetail’ Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft is excellent news for both the RAF and wider Defence. This world-class capability, already proven with our Royal Australian Air Force partners, will significantly enhance our ability to deliver decisive airborne command and control and builds on the reputation of our E3D Sentry Force”, said Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, Chief of the Air Staff.

Royal Air Force E-3D Sentry
A Royal Air Force E-3D Sentry AEW.Mk 1 airborne early warning (AEW) and command and control aircraft operated by the 23 Squadron based at RAF Waddington. Photo by Sgt Jack Pritchard, DCC(RAF).

“Along with Defence’s investment in other cutting-edge aircraft, E-7 will form a core element of the Next Generation Air Force, able to overcome both current and future complex threats”, he added.

The new fleet will be able to track multiple airborne and maritime targets at the same time, using the information it gathers to provide situational awareness and direct other assets such as fighter jets and warships.

The E-7 is based on a standard Boeing 737 NG airliner modified to carry a sophisticated Northrop Grumman active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar. This can cover four million square kilometres over a 10-hour period.

The aircraft is currently in-service with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and has been used on operations in the battle against Daesh (Islamic State) in Iraq and Syria.

Modification of the aircraft will be carried out in the UK, sustaining over 200 highly skilled jobs at Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group (MADG) in Cambridge, and there will also be opportunities for British suppliers to be involved in future training and support arrangements, said a UK MoD statement.

This announcement builds on a growing military capability and industrial relationship between the UK and Australia, after the Australian government selected the British Type 26 design for its future frigate, the statement added.

Infographic of Boeing E-7 AEW&C aircraft. RAF Copyright.
Infographic of Boeing E-7 AEW&C aircraft. RAF Copyright.

Boeing 737 AEW&C

Boeing 737 AEW&C is a twin-engine airborne early warning and control aircraft designed for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) under “Project Wedgetail” and designated E-7A Wedgetail.

The 737 AEW&C is based on the Boeing 737 Next Generation (737NG) design, roughly similar to the 737-700ER. It is lighter than the 707-based Boeing E-3 Sentry, and mounts a fixed, active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar antenna instead of a rotating one.

The aircraft uses the Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar. The L-band (1 to 2 GHz) electronically scanned AEW and surveillance radar is located on a dorsal fin on top of the fuselage, dubbed the “top hat”, and is designed for minimal aerodynamic effect.

The radar is capable of simultaneous air and sea search, fighter control and area search, with a maximum range of over 600 km (look-up mode). When operating in look-down mode against fighter-sized target, the maximum range is in excess of 370 km. When used against maritime targets, the maximum range is over 240 km for frigate-sized targets. MESA is capable of simultaneously tracking 180 targets and conducting 24 intercepts. In addition, the radar antenna array is also doubled as an ELINT array, with a maximum range of over 850 km at 9,000 meter altitude.

The 737 AEW&C has also been selected by the Turkish Air Force (under “Project Peace Eagle”, Turkish: Barış Kartalı) and the Republic of Korea Air Force (“Project Peace Eye”, Korean: “피스 아이”), and has been also proposed to Italy and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

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