The U.S. Air Force has awarded Boeing [BA] a $1.2 billion research and development contract to begin rapid prototyping of the E-7A Wedgetail aircraft.

Boeing said that, under the contract, it will begun development work on two Wedgetails.

Rapid fielding of the E-7A is a priority for Air Force Gen. Mark Kelly, the head of Air Combat Command, and Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has also discussed the need (Defense Daily, Nov. 15, 2022).

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.

Designed for the Royal Australian Air Force, the Wedgetail is a Boeing 737-700 modified for airborne early warning and control. Korea, Turkey, and the Royal Air Force also operate the plane. The aircraft has advanced Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array radar, and 10 mission crew consoles to track airborne and maritime targets simultaneously.

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 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.