The U.S. Air Force has decided, “based on market research,” to replace some of its 31 Boeing [BA] E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes with the Boeing E-7 Wedgetail, the service said on Apr. 26.
The Wedgetail “is the only platform capable of meeting the requirements for the Defense Department’s tactical battle management, command and control and moving target indication capabilities within the timeframe needed to replace the aging E-3,” the Air Force said.
An E-7 contract award is planned in fiscal year 2023 with $227 million in research and development funding for the delivery of a prototype E-7 in fiscal 2027. A draft schedule calls for a second prototype E-7 award in fiscal 2024 and a production decision in fiscal 2025, the Air Force said on Apr. 26.
The Air Force fiscal 2023 budget calls for retiring 15 of 31 AWACS and redirecting funding to buy and field replacement planes.
The Department of the Air Force has been considering a buy of the Boeing E-7 Wedgetail to replace the E-3, and, in the longer term, the department may conduct air moving target indication (AMTI) from space, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown has said (Defense Daily, Sept. 21, 2021).
Brown, who served as the Combined Forces Air Component Commander for Operation Inherent Resolve in 2015 and 2016, said that the Wedgetail had supported operations in Iraq and Syria.
Last year, Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) Commander Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach said that replacing the AWACS with Wedgetail and buying the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter were PACAF’s urgent operational needs (Defense Daily, Feb. 24, 2021).
At the time, Wilsbach said that “the E-3 is a pretty old airframe, and it’s challenged at the moment because of how old it is, and there are some other technologies out there that are ready and quite a bit better than the E-3.”
Designed for the Royal Australian Air Force, the Wedgetail is a Boeing 737-700 modified for airborne early warning and control. The aircraft has advanced Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar, and 10 mission crew consoles to track airborne and maritime targets simultaneously. The Republic of Korea, Turkey, and the United Kingdom have also picked the E-7A for their militaries.
In a Feb. 8 RFI, the Air Force asked each company desiring to offer a proposal on an AWACS replacement to describe how the company’s radar design for a replacement AMTI plane “maintains a 360-degree (azimuth) surveillance picture and is able to perform airborne and maritime surveillance and tracking with variable revisit rates and variable track updates” (Defense Daily, Feb. 9).
The Air Force AWACS replacement, which now looks to be the E-7, is to be able to conduct at least six battle management and control missions simultaneously, such as offensive counter air, defensive counter air, air traffic control, close air support, suppression of enemy air defenses, air refueling, and combat search and rescue, the RFI said.
While the Air Force may in the long term conduct AMTI from space, the U.S. Space Force–the Air Force’s twin sister in the Department of the Air Force—is considering conducting ground moving target indication (GMTI) from space to replace the Northrop Grumman [NOC] Joint STARS planes.