It is now clear the UK has made a definite decision to look beyond the E3 Sentry air-frame as a replacement for its current EW radar platform. After the Nimrod disaster, the topic remains a rather sensitive one. Some had hoped we would stay with the E-3 series which is due to be heavily upgraded and which would mean the RAF fleet would have a high level of commonality with their US counterparts. However, it is good that the UK is looking to an Australian system – and possibly not entirely disconnected to the recent Australian decision to buy the UK-designed Type 26 frigate for its next main surface combatant vessel.
The E-7A Wedgetail uses a Boeing 737-700 fuselage to which a range of the very sophisticated radar is added to create what many regard as one of the most modern and capable EW platforms in the world today. The Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar, and 10 crew consoles allow it to track both airborne and maritime targets as well as provide targeting and tracking info to friendly air and sea assets. The Australian air-force is using it the current battle against IS which they refer to as Operation OKRA.
The Defence Secretary explained:
“The Wedgetail is the stand-out performer in our pursuit of a new battle-space surveillance aircraft and has already proved itself in Iraq and Syria. Running air operations from the sky, it could be an excellent asset for the RAF and give us a real edge in this increasingly complex world. Our future with Australia will already see us operate the same maritime patrol aircraft, world-class Type 26 warships and supersonic F-35 jets. Wedgetail may join that formidable armoury and help us work together to take on the global threats that we both face.”
Further statements from the MOD include:
“Following market analysis and discussions with other potential providers, the MOD has concluded that the potential procurement of the E-7 represents the best value for money option for the UK against need, whilst representing a significant opportunity for increased defence cooperation and collaboration with our key ally Australia.”
UK defence industries will be involved in the modification and final fit of the aircraft. The lion’s share of the value of any such system is on the electronics – both their acquisition of lifetime support. The decision to buy the Wedgetail should result in more UK input that would an upgrade of the E3 fleet, the great majority of which would have been carried out in the US.