The Department of the Air Force (DAF) awarded Boeing a contract to begin work on the E-7A Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) weapon system on Feb 28, 2023. The value of this initial contract will not exceed $1.2 billion.
The DAF selected the E-7A Wedgetail to replace the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). According to a USAF news release, the E-7A will provide advanced Airborne Moving Target Indication and Battle Management, Command and Control capabilities, and advanced Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array radar that enhances airborne battle management and enables long-range kill chains with potential peer adversaries.
The E-7 provides a fully integrated, combat-proven, flexible command and control node that delivers multi-domain awareness in the most challenging operational environments. The E-7’s open systems architecture and agile software design enable the aircraft’s capabilities to evolve and remain ahead of future threats.
In fiscal year 2022, the DAF selected the E-7A to replace the E-3 AWACS and established an E-7A Program Management Office. The DAF is using the rapid prototyping acquisition pathway to acquire the first two E-7As.
“The E-7A will be the department’s principal airborne sensor for detecting, identifying, tracking, and reporting all airborne activity to Joint Force commanders,” said Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. “This contract award is a critical step in ensuring that the department continues delivering battlespace awareness and management capabilities to U.S. warfighters, allies and partners for the next several decades. The E-7A will enable greater airborne battlespace awareness through its precise, real-time air picture and will be able to control and direct individual aircraft under a wide range of environmental and operational conditions.”
“The E-7 is a proven platform,” said Stu Voboril, E-7 program vice president and general manager, in a Boeing news release. “It is the only advanced aircraft that is capable of meeting the U.S. Air Force’s near-term Airborne Early Warning & Control requirement while enabling integration across the joint force.”
The E-7 tracks multiple airborne and maritime threats simultaneously with 360-degree coverage via the Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) sensor. MESA provides the warfighter with critical domain awareness to detect and identify adversarial targets at long range and dynamically adjusts to emerging tactical situations.
Other E-7 operators include the Royal Australian Air Force, Republic of Korea Air Force, Turkish Air Force and the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force.
The E-7 uses a well-established supply chain which significantly reduces maintenance and logistics costs and increases mission readiness on day one. Converted from the Next-Generation 737-700, the E-7 capitalizes on existing commercial derivative aircraft design, certification and modification processes, allowing E-7s to be fielded to meet Air Force needs.
The USAF plans to begin production in fiscal 2025, with the first E-7A expected to be fielded by fiscal 2027. The service anticipates procuring 24 additional E-7As by fiscal 2032. The E-7A total aircraft inventory is projected to be 26.
The ongoing modernization of the E-3 AWACS meets the intent of the 2022 National Defense Strategy by continuing worldwide Battle Management, Command and Control and Airborne Moving Target Indication Operations as required by the DAF.
“We conducted a thorough analysis of viable industry options to ensure the selected E-3 replacement could meet the specific needs of the U.S. Until the E-7A is fielded, we will continue to rely on the E-3 AWACS,” Hunter said. “The rapid prototyping program will integrate U.S.-based mission systems into the existing airborne platform to meet DAF requirements while simultaneously ensuring interoperability with coalition and allied partners already operating the E-7A.”
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Boeing
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