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.

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Cal
Cal
9 months ago

This would be a sad outcome. Australia has 7 with nearly half the number of frontline fighter aircraft.

BB85
BB85
9 months ago
Reply to  Cal

Boeing will just increase the price if we cut our order so a complete false economy.
AEW is one of those capabilities that does rely on european countries supporting each other which is why nato has a few stationed in Europe. I think France only operates 4 aircraft. Australia needs 7 because they have no neighbours able to share the load with.

Last edited 9 months ago by BB85
Cal
Cal
9 months ago

Apologies, 6 not 7.

JohnN
JohnN
9 months ago
Reply to  Cal

Yes 6 is the correct number, but you might find this bit of info interesting.

When the Government here in Oz produced the new 10 year defence acquisition plan last year, one of the projects planned to start at the end of the decade, is a project to start looking at the eventual replacement of Wedgetail sometime well into the 2030s.

The one thing that was mentioned was that the number of replacement aircraft would be increased.

maurice10
maurice10
9 months ago

My thoughts at the moment say, take what you can, but this is stretching the point a bit!

Geoffrey Roach
Geoffrey Roach
9 months ago

Here we go again. Let’s buy a cutting edge system but let’s see if we can’t reduce it’s effectiveness by reducing the numbers or leaving something out. Just once…I would like to see an order go through from start to finish without, using a technical MOD term, being faffed about with. .

Ian
Ian
9 months ago

Would we be better of getting rid of the E3 Sentry and having all Wedgetails , this would give us a modern fleet based on the 737’s Wedgetails and Poseidons

julian1
julian1
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian

We are getting rid of E3 Sentry. We are also getting rid of Sentinel – could we keep all Wedgetails on that basis?

Ian
Ian
9 months ago
Reply to  julian1

Hi Julian……since Boris announced the extra defence budget we’ve lost a couple of Wedgetails, Sentinels.Sentries..and gained some fantasy T32…..
would be good to hear where the new budget is going Australia seems to be going in the right direction

JohnN
JohnN
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian

Ian, you mentioned Australia, you might find this interesting reading:

https://www1.defence.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-11/2020_Force_Structure_Plan.pdf

It’s a PDF of the 2020 Force Structure Plan that the Government here in Oz released mid last year.

Lists all major active Defence projects for the next 10 years and beyond in some cases too.

It also details a timeline for the eventual replacement of the RAAF Wedgetail fleet, a larger fleet, starting around 2030 and running into the 2040s.

The budget allowance for that project has a range of A$14b – A$21.1b.

Some serious dollars being allocated for that project.

Cheers,

Robert Blay
Robert Blay
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian

Sentinels announced in 2015 it was being retired, so nothing new. We have operated only 3 E3’s since 2017, so nothing new. And it’s only speculation the order for E7’s is going to be cut. And maybe there is a better way of providing AEW that doesn’t need an expensive airliner airframe, and a large crew, and that would be a sitting duck in a serious shooting war, with a determined and technological advanced adversey. We are gaining P8, Protector UCAV’s, more Shadows. Carrier Strike, F35. And we badly need new cyber capabilities.

Steve R
Steve R
9 months ago

Here’s a novel idea: how about we actually buy all the numbers we initially planned for?

Joe16
Joe16
9 months ago
Reply to  Steve R

Careful now, that would be a drastic change in policy for UK defence…

JohnN
JohnN
9 months ago

So…. The UK Government originally planed to procure five Wedgetail, leaks to the media that the order will be cut as low as three, but eventually announces four aircraft.

People will only remember the number three mentioned then when it’s four it will look like a win!

Very ‘yes Minister’ indeed!

andy
andy
9 months ago

If they are cutting numbers i would be more worried about how many type 26 we will get…we all know what happened to the type 45 first 12 then 8 bought 6..lets hope they leave them alone!!!

ETH
ETH
9 months ago
Reply to  andy

I am doubtful the Type 26s will be cut; any lower than 8 and you don’t physically have enough ships to maintain the commitments they’re built for. 2 escorting the carrier group, one protecting home waters/ assisting SSBNs out of Faslane.

Pacman27
Pacman27
9 months ago

If true this is really disappointing.

ISR is a key UK area of expertise and enabler and we need to be getting more of these items not less.

Wedgetail is pretty good value for money from what I understand, so not sure this is a good decision at all

but lets wait and see

Ryan Brewis
Ryan Brewis
9 months ago
Reply to  Pacman27

I don’t know, it seems to fit in with procurement decisions these past few years and decades. Pare down everything to try maintain capability in everything.

Sev
Sev
9 months ago

This is very disappointing to hear, 5 aircraft already were on the low side. If going by the rule of three, we would be down to 1 aircraft operational aircraft at any one time. This would be the bare minimum for maintaining AEW for QRA, UK ADIZ use, and would basically make any deployment in support of operations unfeasible. With the 737NG line shutting down very soon, this is an incredibly short sighted decision. I’d gladly trade several of the army’s light role battalions for another Wedgetail or two.

farouk
farouk
9 months ago

A little more info: Google:
The Equipment Plan 2020-2030
and download the PDF. Note not much in the way of actual equipment procurement, but it does go a long way (in only how the Government can manage to drag out any subject) in the pan of action.

RobW
RobW
9 months ago

Until the integrated review is published everything is just speculation and for all we know is part of negotiation tactics with Boeing, who lets not forget have tried to increase the price. Also if we have been operating with 3 for years, would 3 or 4 not suffice?

Daveyb
Daveyb
9 months ago
Reply to  RobW

The problem with operating only 3 to 4 is that they cannot cover the whole of the UK’s airspace let alone the NATO responsibility, i.e. the GIUK gap. Especially when you consider one will be offline for a period of time undergoing scheduled maintenance. It also means they if they are doing routine work over the UK, they cannot be spared for deployments, especially in support of the Navy. As Australia are finding even 8 are not enough for their Northern coastline let alone the whole of their coastline. Which is why they are procuring the high altitude long endurance… Read more »

JohnN
JohnN
9 months ago
Reply to  Daveyb

Daveyb, you mentioned Australia, here’s an accurate list of aircraft types and numbers.

The RAAF currently has 6 E-7A, 12 P-8A (plus 2 more on order, and 1 option yet to be exercised), 6 MQ-4C (on order, plus 1 option), The Government has also selected MQ-9B Skyguardian (same as the UK, 12–16 are planned), and there are also 4 MC-55A (on order, highly modified Gulfstream G550 for the AISREW role).

A reasonable number of types and airframes for the various AEW&C, EW and ISR roles.

Cheers,

Paul42
Paul42
9 months ago

3 airframes will be insufficient, 5 is the absolute minimum required to maintain a credible capability.

Lee H
Lee H
9 months ago

Afternoon All It’s good to see we still get worked up with regards the number of platforms we are purchasing to meet a requirement without fully understanding if the platform alone is the right solution to meet the need. We currently utilise the E-3D Sentry to fulfil an airborne early warning role and the RAF are responsible for making sure there are enough hours available so that these aircraft can meet that need. Within the confines of the UKADGE the AEW role is fulfilled by a series of ground based radar systems located from the coast of Norway through to… Read more »

StevenW
StevenW
9 months ago
Reply to  Lee H

I agree with everything you say Lee. It’s not about platforms but about capabilities, spread of the capabilities, mobility of those capabilities and their survivability.

Grammar is OK too.

Alabama boy
Alabama boy
9 months ago

If we are already talking about cutting the size of the already inadequate E7 fleet, the future looks pretty bleak for AWACS in RAF service. What is to stop the E7 going the same way as the E3D? The aircraft will require a mid life upgrade which will be expensive. The very small fleet will make such an upgrade costly and I doubt the RAAF will be able or willing to absorb all of any development costs of a joint upgrade programme. . By then the MOD will be just as short of funds and their willingness to upgrade the… Read more »

DJ
DJ
9 months ago
Reply to  Alabama boy

Australia will spend the money regardless as it has no one else ‘close by’ to help out (aircraft wise). Both S. Korea & Turkey also operate 4 each.