Among the urgent operational needs of Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) are the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter and the replacement of the Boeing [BA] E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) with the Boeing E-7A Wedgetail, PACAF Commander Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach told reporters on Feb. 24.
“I’m advocating for the NGAD for the fighter capability, and I’m advocating for a replacement to the E-3, maybe because 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” he said during a question and answer session at the Air Force 2021 virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium.
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 E-7 is already fielded in Australia and the Republic of Korea,” Wilsbach said on Feb. 24. “You’d love to say that there’s a follow-on technology [that] maybe we could look at it, but the fact is that we actually need something relatively quick because of the reliability of the E-3. It gets harder and harder to get airborne and really putting that capability on the backs of young airmen who are turning wrenches every day in the Pacific to get those aircraft airborne. The reliability that you get out of the E-7 and the fact that it’s basically available nearly immediately is why that’s so attractive to me.”
On the NGAD side, air superiority is especially important for PACAF, as it looks to counter China.
“Air superiority is foundational to most other things that we would want to be able to do in our theater because if you don’t have air superiority then most everything else you would want to do is really held at risk,” Wilsbach said. “Being able to establish air superiority, either episodically or more permanently, is something we’re going after and trying to improve the capability we already have. That’s in the form of getting into the anti-access, area-denial belts that our adversaries could put up and operate in those areas so that we can create other effects. We have to do SAM [surface-to-air missile] takeowns on the land or at sea. The next thing you’d want to do is take away their air-to-air capability so that the adversary couldn’t shoot down our airplanes. To do all of that you have to have domain awareness.”
Wilsbach also said that “the weapons that go with the NGAD are also important so that we can stay relevant, as our adversaries continue to advance.”