British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has signed a $1.98bn deal to purchase five Boeing E-7 aircraft, it has been announced. The E-7 fleet will replace the current Royal Air Force E-3D Sentry aircraft in the Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) role. The aircraft are known as ‘Wedgetail’ by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and the deal has been completed 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.
‘This deal also strengthens our vital military partnership with Australia,’ said Williamson. ‘We will operate the same 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.’
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, said: ‘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 E-3D Sentry Force.’
Modification of the aircraft will be carried out in the UK by Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group in Cambridge, and there will also be opportunities for British suppliers to be involved in future training and support arrangements, according to the MoD.
The decision to acquire the E-7 without an open tender has frustrated other AEW&C suppliers. A six-month competition was envisioned in February 2018, but with the E-7 being declared as the only ‘functioning product’, this was cancelled. Saab wrote to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee questioning the rejection of its proposal for its Erieye radar system to be mounted on the Airbus A330. The MoD said the Wedgetail is a proven and reliable aircraft and that it is ready and available in a short timeframe. It combines a 737-700IGW fuselage with wings and undercarriage of the 737-800. Above the fuselage a fixed mounting houses a Northrop Grumman Multirole Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar.
The MoD says that the E-7 is a low-risk, readily available, solution to replace the E-3D, which is suffering in terms of operational readiness having been overlooked for major upgrades. The MoD is specifically working for the Australian Wedgetail standard aircraft, rather than the generic E-7 or 737 AEW&C. This is due to a desire to leverage commonality and the huge amount of E-7 fault correction work (dubbed risk reduction) completed by the RAAF, which also operates the P-8 Poseidon and F-35, mirroring the UK. The ability to tap into existing battlespace networks alongside F-35 and P-8 will be a major consideration as will existing national security protocols.
A full report on the Boeing E-7 appeared in the February issue of Combat Aircraft: https://combataircraft.keypublishing.com/the-magazine/view-issue/?issueID=7568