While the U.S. Air Force has said that a $200 million add last year for the Boeing [BA] E-7A Wedgetail will not accelerate first fielding of the aircraft, the service says that Congress could push up fielding of aircraft from one in fiscal 2029 to two in fiscal 2028, if lawmakers appropriate $596 million for Wedgetail procurement in the service’s fiscal 2024 wish list.

Congressional appropriators’ $200 million plus up last year accelerates “critical contractor hiring and initiation of engineering and design efforts,” Air Force acquisition chief Andrew Hunter said in written answers to Defense Daily questions last week. “The congressional add also allowed us to do some things earlier in the program, including fund the procurement of 737-700, radar, and modification kit long lead hardware; critical engineering reviews; and early software demonstrations and test planning. Further, we will be able to fund incentives in the contract that would help us keep to our aggressive schedule to field this capability.”

The Air Force said that, if Congress were to fund the E-7A wish list, long-lead items for the first two E-7As would begin production in fsical 2024.

Last week, Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall that they believed that congressional appropriators’ $200 million increase for the E-7A in fiscal 2023 was to accelerate fielding of the first E-7A (Defense Daily, May 2).

The Air Force has said that it wants the delivery of a prototype E-7A in fiscal 2027 and that it will make a production decision in fiscal 2025.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, who served as the Combined Forces Air Component Commander for Operation Inherent Resolve in 2015 and 2016, has said that Wedgetail supported operations in Iraq and Syria.

The Air Force fiscal 2024 request includes $681 million in research and development for E-7A. The service said that the cost estimate for the Middle Tier Acqusition effort for the E-7A is $2.7 billlion.

The Air Force said in February that it had awarded Boeing a $1.2 billion research and development contract to begin rapid prototyping of the first two E-7As (Defense Daily, Feb. 28).

Kendall has said that E-7A delivery to the Air Force requires two years to acquire the new production 737-700 aircraft and two more years to modify them with the radar and command and control systems for the airborne early warning command and control mission.

Kendall told SASC last week that there has been “some confusion” around acceleration of the program.

“We get more inventory into the hands of people faster than we would have with the profile we initially proposed but you don’t get the first airplane faster,” he said. The Air Force fiscal 2024 budget request does not fund this acceleration, he said.

In March, Northrop Grumman said that it would begin producing the company’s

Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar for the E-7A (Defense Daily, March 20).

Designed for the Royal Australian Air Force, the Wedgetail has 10 mission crew consoles to track airborne and maritime targets simultaneously. Korea and Turkey also operate the plane, and the Royal Air Force is to field it.

Brown told SASC last week that the Air Force plans to send 50 to 60 airmen to Australia next month to begin training on the E-7s “to help accelerate bringing the E-7 into our inventory.”

The Wedgetail is to replace at least 15 of the Air Force’s 31 E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes, also built by Boeing. The Air Force wants to retire 18 AWACS in fiscal 2024 (Defense Daily, March 13).