The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the fiscal 2023 defense authorization bill would prohibit the U.S. Air Force from divesting five of 15 Boeing [BA] E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft until the service presents a requirements assessment and an acquisition plan for the aircraft’s designated replacement, the Boeing E-7 Wedgetail. The Air Force’s fiscal 2023 budget request asks Congress to permit the retirement of 15 of the service’s 31 AWACS planes to save operations and maintenance funds and make way for the E-7.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has said that the service is investigating if and how it may accelerate the planned procurement of 15 E-7s as a partial replacement for the Air Force’s AWACS fleet (Defense Daily, May 3).
To receive authorization to retire 15 AWACS, rather than 10, in fiscal 2023, the HASC bill would require Kendall to submit to Congress a report on the current and future AMTI and air battle management requirements of the Air Force, a comparison of the capabilities of the E-3 and the E-7, the acquisition strategy for the E-7, and the number of Air Force AMTI and air battle management requirements “being fulfilled by the current fleet of 31 E–3 aircraft or other capabilities; and the number of such requirements that would be fulfilled by a reduced fleet of 16 E–3 aircraft.”
HASC also wants an Air Force assessment “of whether and to what extent a reduced fleet of 16 E–3 aircraft would
affect the level of support provided to the operations of the geographic combatant commands,” according to the HASC bill.
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.
The Royal Air Force is to field its first E-7 next year after having selected the Wedgetail in 2019. Kendall has said that acquiring the 737-700s for military use normally requires two years, while modifying them for Air Force air moving target indication requires another two years.
The Air Force 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 (Defense Daily, Apr. 26).
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 the Wedgetail had supported operations in Iraq and Syria.
In addition to improved AMTI that the Air Force expects with the E-7, in the longer term the Department of the Air Force may conduct AMTI from space as a hedge against the ease with which advanced adversaries, like China, may be able, at long distances, to destroy large surveillance aircraft.