This comes after speculation that the order for five E-7 Wedgetail aircraft could be reduced to three to save money.
Wedgetail is an airborne early warning and control system, commonly known as AWACs or AEW&C. They are designed to track multiple targets at sea or in the air over a considerable area for long periods of time.
Lord Moonie, a non-affiliated member of the House of Lords, asked via a written question:
“To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many E-7 Wedgetail AWACS systems they plan to procure; and what is the anticipated delivery timescale of each such system.”
Baroness Goldie, Minister of State for the Ministry of Defence, responded:
“In March 2019, HM Treasury and the Ministry of Defence approved the procurement of five E-7 Wedgetail aircraft, however, discussions regarding the final E-7 Wedgetail fleet size are on-going with a decision expected in the first half of this year. The first UK E-7 Wedgetail is expected to enter service with the Royal Air Force in 2023.”
Media reports have already suggested the Ministry of Defence plans to reduce an order for new early warning radar aircraft.
The Wedgetail aircraft programme has already been criticised by MPs unhappy about the lack of a competition to replace the RAF’s existing Sentry aircraft – known as its “eye in the sky”.
Reports in the media now claim the planned purchase of five replacement aircraft could be reduced to three to save money. The MoD has not confirmed this. But could this leave the UK with a capability gap?
In September 2020 The Times’s defence correspondent, Lucy Fisher, reported on Twitter that the MoD is considering reducing the number of aircraft to be bought from five to three. Jane’s Defence Weekly magazine confirmed with an unnamed senior MOD source that the MoD is considering a reduction to save money.
In the Defence Equipment Plan 2019, the MOD forecast the costs of the Wedgetail programme to be £2.16 bn. When asked about the difference, the Minister for Defence Procurement explained the figure of £1.51 bn relates to the value of the aircraft procurement contract, whereas the £2.16 figure includes training and future support costs.
The National Audit Office has described the defence equipment plan as “unaffordable“. The NAO also advise that the MoD has already reduced the number of Sentry aircraft from six to three in 2020 to save money.