The U.S. Air Force is considering a buy of the Boeing [BA] E-7 Wedgetail, as the department eyes conducting air moving target indication (AMTI) from space.
“We are looking at the E-7,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown told reporters at the Air, Space & Cyber conference on Sept. 21. “I’ve flown an E-7 twice…In the future, ideally, we’d like to look at a capability that can be defensible, being able to do AMTI from space, but in the interim, the E-7 is a good platform.”
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.
Brown’s statement comes nearly seven months after Pacific Air Forces Commander Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach said that replacing the Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) with the Wedgetail and buying the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter were PACAF’s urgent operational needs (Defense Daily, Feb. 24).
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.
“The E-7 is already fielded in Australia and the Republic of Korea,” Wilsbach said in February. “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.”
At AFA on Sept. 21, Brown said that the Air Force is considering the E-7 buy, given the mission capable rates and sustainment costs of the AWACS.
While the Department of the Air Force develops AMTI from space, the E-7 is a “proven capability,” Brown said.
“We’re doing our own internal analysis,” he said. “E-7 is an option we are taking a look at. It’s already developed. You don’t have to build it from scratch. You don’t have to test it…It’s an option to get a capability much faster than if we were to start from scratch.”
In addition to 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.