First E-7 Wedgetail Can’t Come Any Sooner. However Perhaps USAF Can Full Its Fleet Quicker

Aug. 1, 2023

DAYTON, Ohio—Neither intense curiosity nor additional funding can transfer up the 2027 date when the Air Pressure takes possession of its first E-7 Wedgetail. However USAF acquisition officers mentioned July 31 that actions taken now may assist them aquire the 26-plane fleet extra shortly.  

“There’s a variety of fixation on how briskly we are able to produce the primary one,” Steven Wert, program govt officer for the digital directorate, mentioned on the Life Cycle Business Days convention. “[But] there are limitations to that. Boeing has to construct a inexperienced plane after which they need to convert it to a configuration that may assist the radar, after which the mission methods, after which it’s important to take a look at and certify air worthiness and people issues. There’s solely so quick you are able to do the primary one.” 

How briskly the Air Pressure can get the remainder of its new E-7s, nevertheless, has been a subject of intense curiosity since USAF introduced its choice to exchange its growing old E-3 airborne early warning and management plane with the Wedgetail.  

Buying planes sooner continues to be potential, mentioned Thomas Ramsey, airborne warning and management system division chief.  

“The speedy prototyping, the primary two, we’re going as quick as we are able to,” Ramsey mentioned. “The way in which to fill the fleet sooner is to do it by way of manufacturing. Superior procurement of the 737, the radar, the strengthened part will allow us to leap begin every block purchase by a 12 months. So there’s undoubtedly profit there. After which the opposite approach to go sooner is to purchase extra per 12 months.” 

The Air Pressure fiscal 2024 finances request didn’t embrace that superior procurement, however USAF did listing a $600 million requirement on its unfunded priorities listing for Congress. The funds would pay for long-lead objects and assist Northrop Grumman ramp up manufacturing capability for the Wedgetail’s Multi-Position Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar.

Congress appears cut up on the matter. The Home model of the 2024 Nationwide Protection Authorization invoice included half that quantity, $300 million; the Senate model contains none.

Air Pressure Secretary Frank Kendall advised lawmakers in 2022 “there are issues that we may do … to possibly get entry to plane earlier a method or one other.” Simply how was by no means clear.

Australia has six E-7s in operation, and the UK is within the course of of shopping for three. Ultimately 12 months’s Life Cycle Business Days convention, Wert steered that “we see super alternatives to speed up take a look at and analysis, on condition that we’re shopping for a system similar to the UK E-7. A lot of the testing can truly be executed on a UK E-7.” 

The U.S., British, and Australian air chiefs signed a “joint imaginative and prescient assertion” in July, pledging to work collectively to develop and deploy the E-7 Wedgetail, and noting a collective need to “speed up E-7 functionality supply.” 

However that deal is generally centered on long-term enhancements, not short-term deliveries, Wert mentioned.

“The intent of that assertion is seeking to the longer term,” he mentioned. “We count on, for instance, Australia to leverage the work we’re doing on open mission methods on our speedy prototyping plane. So it’s taking a look at the way forward for modernization throughout the three fleets and the way we are able to work collectively to leverage one another’s investments or perhaps a coordinated program sooner or later.” 

The urgency of the necessity to exchange the E-3 AWACS fleet isn’t any secret. The age and deterioration of the U.S. AWACS fleet makes the outdated Boeing 707-based plane exhausting to take care of.

However whereas merely buying new E-7s into service as shortly as potential stays the highest precedence, however Air Materiel Command can also be keeping track of future enhancements. “I imagine a few of their future necessities shall be issues like much more improved radar, which some degree of improvement funding Australia has already, … [and] however it could have to be additional developed.” 

Ramsey, the airborne warning and management system division chief, mentioned communications enhancements are additionally possible. “Each battle administration platform will at all times want extra superior communications—larger pipes and extra bandwidth and extra radios to get data on and off,” he mentioned.