Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has signed a $1.98Bn (£1.51Bn) deal to purchase five E-7 Wedgetail aircraft. The E-7 Wedgetail fleet will replace the current E-3D Sentry aircraft and ensure the continued delivery of the UK’s Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) capability.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: «The E-7 Wedgetail provides a technological edge in an increasingly complex battlespace, allowing our pilots to track and target adversaries more effectively than ever. This deal also strengthens our vital military partnership with Australia. We will operate the same state-of-the-art F-35 Lightning II jets and world-class Type-26 warships, and this announcement will help us work even more closely together to tackle the global threats we face».
The new fleet will be able to track multiple airborne and maritime targets at the same time, using the information it gathers to provide situational awareness and direct other assets such as fighter jets and warships. The E-7 Wedgetail is a proven aircraft that is currently in service with the Royal Australian Air Force and has been used on operations in the battle against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
As part of the plan for a managed transition to E-7 Wedgetail, it has been decided to reduce the existing E-3D Sentry fleet from six to four aircraft by removing the two long-term unserviceable assets from the active fleet. Doing this now will enable the Sentry Force to focus resources on providing better availability from the remaining four aircraft, to better assure the future Sentry Fleet output, including our commitments to the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force and the provision of NATO Assurance Measures missions.
Speaking following the announcement, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, said: «Today’s announcement about the procurement of five E-7 ‘Wedgetail’ Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft is excellent news for both the Royal Air Force (RAF) and wider Defence. This world-class capability, already proven with our Royal Australian Air Force partners, will significantly enhance our ability to deliver decisive airborne command and control and builds on the reputation of our E-3D Sentry Force. Along with Defence’s investment in other cutting-edge aircraft, E-7 Wedgetail will form a core element of the Next Generation Air Force, able to overcome both current and future complex threats».
The E-7 Wedgetail is based on a standard Boeing 737 airliner modified to carry a sophisticated Northrop Grumman active electronically-scanned radar. This can cover four million square kilometres over a 10-hour period.