USAF E-7 Wedgetail Radar Plane Faces New Hurdle With Boeing Engineering Costs (2024)

US Air Force

USAF E-7 Wedgetail Radar Plane Faces New Hurdle With Boeing Engineering Costs (1)

By Joe Kunzler

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USAF E-7 Wedgetail Radar Plane Faces New Hurdle With Boeing Engineering Costs (2)

Summary

  • The E-7A Wedgetail is intended to replace the E-3 Sentry for improved radar capabilities
  • But the project is facing higher engineering costs and delays in production orders due to price concerns
  • Congress may authorize more purchases annually to speed up replacement rate, emphasizing cost controls on the Wedgetail project

The US Air Force’s future Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft in the E-7A Wedgetail based on the Boeing 737-700ER is running into new issues, namely engineering costs for US Air Force changes to communications exceeding expectations. However, the US Air Force clearly has an acute need to replace its aging E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft, which is based on the elderly Boeing 707.

Need for Wedgetails is to replace and improve airborne radar

According to the February 28, 2023, Air & Space Forces Magazine report, the current AWACS aircraft E-3 Sentry, which is roughly based on the Boeing 707, was mission-ready only 60% of the time in recent years. Its replacement, the E-7A Wedgetail, offers new capabilities that Sentry does not. In a February 28 Secretary of the Air Force statement, the E-7A is intended to,

“Provide advanced Airborne Moving Target Indication and Battle Management, Command and Control capabilities, and advanced Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array radar that enhances airborne battle management and enables long-range kill chains with potential peer adversaries.”

In short, the E-7A is intended to be a flying radar that provides advanced target sharing with multiple US military platforms. Hence, improved communications are needed compared to the E-7As already produced for Australia, South Korea, and Turkey and currently being produced for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force.

Higher than anticipated costs delay production orders

As much as the US Air Force needs the E-7A Wedgetail, the expenses of the project mean that fewer units will be bought. As Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told a US Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing, as reported in the April 16 Inside Defense,

“The price that we got from the prime came in much higher than we had anticipated. … We’re still committed to the program, but we’ve got to have an affordable aircraft.”

Additionally, as per the August 1, 2023, Air & Space Forces Magazine report, there is concern that the prototyping cannot be done faster. But Congress can authorize purchasing more Wedgetails each year to accelerate the replacement rate, which incentivizes the Air Force to have cost controls on the Wedgetail project.

USAF E-7 Wedgetail Radar Plane Faces New Hurdle With Boeing Engineering Costs (3)

Infographic: Royal Air Force

According to a Breaking Defense article on April 16, these cost issues have delayed orders for production Wedgetails until 2026. However, the two prototypes are still on track to be delivered by the end of 2027.

About the E-7A Wedgetail

The E-7A Wedgetail is an AWACS platform using the Boeing 737-700ER design. It puts in more fuel tanks to give range and endurance, and sports a fixed Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar system. Designed for minimal aerodynamic effect, the radar provides simultaneous air and sea search capabilities while good communications help control air and land and sea assets for intercepts.

Related

This Modified Boeing 737 Is So Cool

The Boeing 737 AEW&C is designed to be an Airborne Warning and Control System.

The MESA radar can detect aircraft out to 230 miles (370 kilometers). Additionally, the MESA radar also finds frigates 150 miles or 240 kilometers out on the sea. Plus, the MESA radar antenna can provide electromagnetic spectrum intelligence to what Boeing calls “passive detection capability.” Finally, here is a detailed look at the development and early use of the Wedgetail by the Royal Australian Air Force:

As you can see, the Wedgetail will take airborne early warning and control to a whole new level.

What are your takeaways? Please share with civility in the comments.

  • Military Aviation
  • Boeing News
  • Aviation News

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USAF E-7 Wedgetail Radar Plane Faces New Hurdle With Boeing Engineering Costs (2024)
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