The E-7 Wedgetail provides one of the most advanced air battlespace management capabilities in the world and the Royal Air Force have just purchased five of them.

The Wedgetail is an Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft with maritime search capabilities, the ability to control unmanned aircraft and intelligence gathering capabilities.

The Wedgetail is based on a Boeing 737-700, with the addition of an advanced Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar and 10 mission crew console. They can cover four million square kilometres during a single 10 hour mission according to the Royal Australian Air Force.

“The E-7A Wedgetail represents an entirely new capability for the Australian Defence Force, providing an airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) platform that can gather information from a wide variety of sources, analyse it and distribute it to other air and surface assets. 

The E-7A Wedgetail can control the tactical battle space, providing direction for fighter aircraft, surface combatants and land based elements, as well as supporting aircraft such as tankers and intelligence platforms. Based on the 737-700 commercial airliner airframe, the E-7A Wedgetail features advanced multi role electronically scanned radar and 10 state-of-the-art mission crew consoles that are able to track airborne and maritime targets simultaneously.”

As the Second Line of Defense put it, the Wedgetail is designed with ‘the reach rather than range approach’; the MESA radar can be dialled up in terms of energy and focused in terms of direction on priority scan areas. As one Northrop Grumman engineer reportedly put it:

“There is a fundamental shift operationally in terms of how one uses the Wedgetail versus the AWACS. You no longer are limited or defined by a 360 degree rotator. You are able to configure how much power you want to put into your radar reach; it is configurable to the mission. The integrated IFF and radar functionality also allows the system to reach much greater than other systems into the battlespace to shape greater situational awareness in the battlespace. You can put the energy in the mission area where you have the highest priority.”

Image result for wedgetail top hat
The (aptly named for a British purchase) ‘Top Hat’ of the aircraft houses the radar.

The L-band electronically scanned AEW and surveillance radar is located on a dorsal fin on top of the fuselage, dubbed the “top hat”, and is designed for minimal aerodynamic effect.

The system provides 360 degree coverage and is capable of simultaneous air and sea search, fighter control and area search, with a maximum range of over 600km (look-up mode). When operating in look-down mode against fighter-sized target, the maximum range is in excess of 370 km according to Boeing. When used against maritime targets, the maximum range is over 240km for frigate-sized targets. MESA is capable of simultaneously tracking 180 targets and conducting 24 intercepts. Back in 2009, Boeing even demonstrated control of three ScanEagle unmanned aircraft from a Wedgetail.

In addition, the radar antenna array is also doubled as an ELINT (that’s a form of covert intelligence-gathering by electronic means) array, with a maximum range of over 850 km at 9,000 metre altitude.

Back in 2014, a Wedgetail conducted the first Australian sortie over Iraq supporting coalition forces conducting airstrikes against Islamic State. The next year, another performed the longest Australian command and control mission in a war zone during a 17-hour, 6-minute combat mission, requiring two air-to-air refuellings to stay aloft.

Photo by Bidgee [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

Wedgetail looks to be maturing nicely in Australian hands with the major early teething troubles now ironed out. It’s also currently undergoing a major programme of further upgrades, due to be completed in 2022 that we reported on here.

The type will enter UK service in the early 2020s.

4 1 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dumb Engineer

Still waiting for the announcement that Voyager will get a Boom Refuelling capability but, given the number of sole source acquisitions of US kit, would not be surprised if it were retired to accomodate a purchase of Pegasus!

Steve Taylor

I always find it interesting how we ended up with two systems for AAR.

Ulrich Wahl

Can someone in the UK please explain why tankers were ordered without a boom. It seems totally idiotic to me. Am I missing some clever reasoning?


There is talk of giving voyager a boom ala Australian version


Voyager will remain in service until 2035, and possibly beyond.
A boom is a future possibility, but not a necessity

Cam Hunter

Again Australia has bought more Wedgetails than the UK, they seem to be buying or have more p8s also and they will have 5 more atack submarines than the UK. I know we have more destroyers and aircraft carriers and Nuclear armed subs. But for Australia’s size they will have lots of great gear in future. A great Allie and I hope we work more with them in future, they should join the Tempest program along with Canada.


Hi Cam
I get the whole “too many chefs spoil the broth” but I would agree that Aus would make a good partner for Tempest. Afterall it’s designed to be a technology demonstrator right? So with flexibility and modularity in mind, perhaps Tempest could be configurable for different nations but specifically based around a common frame.
Interested to see where this leads!
[email protected]


Australia major purchase tends to align with US equipment, current F-35 acquisition is a very good indicator of their direction (with Tiger attack helicopter being the exception and likely Apache taking on as replacement).

Nevertheless it will be interesting if Australian government will look at Tempest or stick with USA roadmap for future fighter.

Daniele Mandelli

With the size of the areas they need to cover then no wonder they bought more P8.

More subs?

They are not SSNs and not in the same league.


Per Unit price of the Attack-class is very close, USD wise, to the Virginia Class. It’s what you get when you have the geographic requirements they have. They are in the same league as SSNs, at least price wise.

Cam Hunter

Actually Britain has more sea area to cover than Australia.. including British over seas territory’s that we also protect.

Daniele Mandelli



Two Astute subs could sink the entire Australian navy, numbers aren’t everything. Also Australia is the size of Europe. That’s a lot of airspace and sea to patrol.

Matthew East

I wouldnt be so bold as to say two Astute’s would sink the entire RAN. They are a great boat dont get me wrong but so to are the boats and ships the RAN uses. In combat vs combat it is too hard to say who would win, Its really any ones guess because of the number of scenario’s that could be played out would make it impossible to choose a victor. That being said the Astutes however do have the advantage in regards to range, speed, weapons load out, endurance etc. One Astute could be worth on a numbers… Read more »

Matthew East

Might happen might also be room to work in the UK and Canada joining in developing the Loyal Wing man drone. Australia will eventually need a replacement for her Super Hornets so the Tempest may be an ideal option. All 3 of our nations have well advanced aero space industries that really have not been tapped to there full potential. Wouldnt see much if any orders from Canada as by then they should have already replaced their Hornets if not the RCAF would be a shadow of its self. Australia would be good for 24 orders, Perhaps up to 36… Read more »

Trevor Holcroft

Australia is a continental sized country. It will certainly need that nr of planes. Its subs are not nuclear powered are they?
We should build another carrier and share it with Australia.


Very high possibility it will be in the future, that’s a major reason French and their Shortfin Barracuda class sub win the deal. It is based on future Barracuda class (SSN) with conventional power but a lot of analyst suspect it will basis for Australia future transition to nuclear sub clu.

Steve Taylor

If we had Indonesia to our north and no friends we would be buying kit hand over fist.


Our order is great news, along with the P8s and other ISTAR assets we have some fantastic kit in that area.

What I would like to see happen is greater mass in the 2 areas that really make a difference in war. I see that as the SSN fleet and fast jets. A greater number of Astutes and Typhoons/F35s would increase the lethality of our armed forces no end. A lot great kit manned by professional men and women, just not quite enough in some key areas in my opinion (for what that is worth!).

Daniele Mandelli


Meirion X

What Point of procuring more Typhoons!! Still more then half of Typhoons procured, are in storage, because of shortage of crews!

Daniele Mandelli

Very interesting that it has Elint capability.

We lost gold standard with the 3 R1s when they were cut. And I thought the RC135 is more of a sigint aircraft.

Matthew East

The RAAF is trying to make as many of its aircraft as multi role as possible with them to one level or another to both work exceptionally in the air but also support the RAN and Army. Actually the joint work between the services has gotten along so well it was an RAAF officer in charge of a recent 6 ship RAN deployment to South East Asia. We have seen the benefits in the ‘kill web’ concept (The next evolution of the kill chain) and are using every available asset to make it work even going so far as to… Read more »

Steve Taylor

ELINT and EW are some of the few areas we invest in to a more than adequate level.


Good to buy yesterday’s technology


If like Australia I had China on my door step I would be investing a lot more. Fortunately we have Russia on ours which might pose a threat to Estonia but the RN would be able to take out almost its entire blue water naval capability before it got past the northern tip of Norway. Better for the UK to invest in expeditionary capability like amphibious brigades, deployable armoured infantry divisions, aircraft carriers and C4ISTAR assets like Sentinal. Also as our only near threat has a gigantic nuclear arsenal (some of which is bound to still work) we need to… Read more »


More than enough? Not sure I agree there, we only have 8 asw frigates and 7 subs of which how many will be operational at any one time? Sure, we will be getting the P8’s soon, but as stated there will not be enough to provide full cover for everything we need. I would personally like to see us invest in autonomous subs (like the Boeing Orca but our own design) to patrol off our coasts leaving the Astutes to deploy globally, and order a second batch of 5 asw focussed T31 as well as another 3-5 P8’s. Outside of… Read more »


True but policing the UKGIP gap is a job for the whole of Europe and North America, Russia can’t repalce its SSN’s and while its SSK’s are decent they have difficulty operating in the Atlantic.

On that basis our ASW capability is more than sufficient for home defence. Russian SSK’s would also have to get past NATO SSK’s which are far more capable and numerous in the Baltic and the Black Sea.

That being said I think we should very much invest in USV like Orca. They improve the capability of SSN’s and ASW frigates.


The problem is, all this extra spend, unless it’s dynamic and supports foreign policy that increases ours of others prosperity, is a waste. There should be 3 types of force, super, mid and specialised, with a focus to automate the mid. Super: the deterrent, mid: surgical strike, sea/air commerce defence, humanitarian and small insurgency, specialist: intelligence or SF. Having vast swathes of planes, boats, tanks for large scale conventional warfare has no real place post nuclear, and only serves to support industrial areas politically. When the same investment in technology on those areas could make much more. The UK is… Read more »


I would disagree with your analysis of Germany. For starters they still have over 50 thousand US troops based there comprising of US Army and USAF and some Navy, notwithstanding the forces they have based in Eastern Europe. Therefore, as Trump has rightly been saying (can’t believe I agree with him!), Europe has been taking the piss with regards to its military expenditure. We have about 170 thousand full time “servicemen” spread between all three services. Therefore if we had that many US forces stationed here it would make up just under a third of our total servicemen – makes… Read more »


I am becoming slightly concerned, if I understand correctly the E-7 and for that matter the P-8 use the boom method of in flight refueling however Voyager does not have this capability. Does that mean that the RAF would need to have US tanker support or are we going to buy this capability in.
My understanding is that the P-8 cannot be configured for the RAF method of refueling so I suspect that the E-7 will have the same issue, any thoughts.


Unfortunately that’s exactly what it means however I would expect to see a switch at the MOD very soon. The aircraft we have can be refitted very quickly. Training is a bit of an issue but Australia will help us out.

Also the UK tends not to need A2A refueling for large aircraft as we have numerous overseas bases and we don’t have to cross the Atlantic to get anywhere like the USAF.


Nope, that’s not true. It’s just the Boeing safety case for underwriting the modification is too much. Another massive Boeing mark up trying to squeeze as much out of the HMG cash cow as possible. The P8 delivery team have a choice integrate certain weapons or pay for the probe modification. There’s no extra cash, so weapons integration has been chosen.


Does the plane have to go upside down to use it’s radar when scanning the ground?


So does the plane need to fly upside down for it to scan the ground?