The U.S. Air Force expects to award a contract in fiscal 2023 for a program to replace the Boeing [BA] E-3G Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft.
“The program requires delivery of at least two production representative prototype aircraft, including ground support and training systems, within five years starting in FY23 (expected contract award),” per a Feb. 8 request for information (RFI) business notice.
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 February, 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.
“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.”
In the Feb. 8 RFI, the Air Force asks 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.”
The replacement AWACS 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.