Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced that the Ministry of Defence is in discussion with Boeing about the potential for the E-7 Wedgetail aircraft to replace the current Sentry fleet, say the MoD.

The E-7 Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) System is able to fly for long periods of time and manage the battlespace from the sky, providing situational awareness and tracking multiple airborne and maritime targets at the same time. It then uses the information it gathers to direct other assets like fighter jets and warships. It has already been proven on operations in the battle against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

Further discussions are set to take place before any investment decision is made, as the MOD follows a stringent approvals process to ensure the aircraft meets the military requirement and represents value-for-money. If selected, UK industry could be involved significantly with the programme, from modification work to through life support.

Speaking ahead of the meeting of Defence Ministers in NATO, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:

“The Wedgetail is the stand-out performer in our pursuit of a new battlespace surveillance aircraft, and has already proved itself in Iraq and Syria. Running air operations from the sky, it could be an excellent asset for the RAF and give us a real edge in this increasingly complex world.

Our future with Australia will already see us operate the same maritime patrol aircraft, world-class Type 26 warships and supersonic F-35 jets. Wedgetail may join that formidable armoury and help us work together to take on the global threats that we both face.”

According to an MoD statement:

“Following market analysis and discussions with other potential providers, the MOD has concluded that the potential procurement of the E-7 represents the best value for money option for the UK against need, whilst representing a significant opportunity for increased defence cooperation and collaboration with our key ally Australia.”

More details on the deal with be reported as they happen.

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For those in the know on this platform:
What would be required to have these aircraft double up fully as MPA to bolster the P8 fleet? Is it inconceivable to have a genuine cross capable fleet of a few squadrons of E7/P8 that can operate as AWACs and MPA as and when required? Can the ”wedgetail” (Top Hat) be removed from the aircraft when required? (for MPA duty)? Why is the P8 Matt blue/grey and the E7 gloss white? (so many questions…)


“What would be required to have these aircraft double up fully as MPA to bolster the P8 fleet?” Our current E3D Sentry fleet have always had a secondary over water maritime support role, no doubt that will continue and be expanded with E-7. It should be noted that the UK ISTAR fleet is increasingly multi role in nature. “Is it inconceivable to have a genuine cross capable fleet of a few squadrons of E7/P8 that can operate as AWACs and MPA as and when required?” – See above answer. “Can the ”wedgetail” (Top Hat) be removed from the aircraft when… Read more »


It evidently has some maritime detection and control capability, but not the sub hunting equipment the MPAs would have.

Nigel Collins

Great news to start the day, let’s hope we get like for like or even an increase in numbers for once!

Daniele Mandelli

Fat chance. Unless they spin it.

The MDP may well emphasise the importance of ISTAR ( which it is ) as a reason to do away with combat forces in the meantime.

High tech Intel means we don’t need so many cos of blah blah blah.

We saw that in 2004 when they explained stand off weapons and modern planes meant half the fast jet fleet could be scrapped. ( Jaguars. Tornado. Tornado F3. )

Robert Blay

They are looking at purchasing 6, we only have 6 E3’s, plus the new aircraft will have much better serviceability rates.


Makes eminent sense to base this platform on the P8. There must be a considerable saving to be gained over the life of these planes. This approach to procurement enables a faster ISD than attempting to starting from scratch or trying to patch up an existing time expired system. The ill-fated Nimrod improvement programme must still haunt the corridors of the MOD. Maybe we should apply this concept across a broader field of possibilities. The Royal Navy comes to mind, having just bought four supply vessels from South Korea. If these had been built in UK yards would they have… Read more »

Nigel Collins

Here’s one I can think of maurice10 that could fit the bill. Interesting read!

The F-15X will have a 20,000-hour service life. Yes, you read that right, 20,000 hours—pretty much three times that of most fighters being produced around the globe. As such, a new F-15X can serve for roughly 80 years. When you spread the cost of the jet over all that flight time, it does appear to be a comparative bargain.


E-7 and P-8 are effectively different aircraft with only fairly superficially commonality, they are both based on different 737 variants with major structural differences with the latter even having thicker fuselage skin to take account of its operational environment.


I thought this too. However it turns out not to be entirely correct. They are both based on the 737NG Platform. They both apparently share the same wings and obviously engines along with flight systems. The only real difference is the Fuselage and as far as I know even that is the same apart from the P8 having the longer 737-800ER fuselage.


Would it not make sense to base both aircraft on the exact same airframe, in that case? i.e. fit the Wedgetail “top hat” and its associated equipment to a P8 airframe to fulfil the UK AWACS requirement?


Probably but that is not what was designed. The P8 probably needs to be bigger to contain the extra equipment etc. That would be wasted space and extra weight for the E-7.

We are purchasing off the shelf aircraft, going back the the drawing board would make them far more expensive.


The fuselage skin is thicker on a P-8 and the general configuration has been changed to take account of the sonobuoy and torpedo bays.

The E-7 has structural changes as well, it would probably add significant cost to reconfigure the base P-8 into an E-7 hybrid.


I agree it would cost a significant amount to reconfigure the aircraft but that is the case with most specialist aircraft. It does not mean however that the maintenance will not be easier and cheaper due to shared parts.

However as far as I am aware the E-7 can be used in the maritime role to a certain degree. It can be used to track surface vessels but not subs.


There will be some commonality certainly but actually that point will be rather academic, in the end the way the P-8 and no doubt E-7 contract will work out is some form of maintenance and availability agreement with Boeing. To that end the RAF will not hold a large spares holding, it will be up to Boeing to ensure spares are available when needed. The model will probably be based upon the current Global C-17 sustainment partnership. The C-17 GSP is an offshoot of Boeing’s integrated logistics services. Under the C-17 GSP if for example an RAF C-17 develops a… Read more »


As a side note, maintenance and availability agreements with industry help avoid RAF Fitters deciding the best way to get Aircraft A working is to take something off Aircraft B thus grounding it then needing other parts for Aircraft C and D that are also taken off Aircraft A until it is so parted out that getting it back into flight worthiness is an expensive and time consuming exercise!

Christmas-treeing airframes is an old RAF habit…

With a maintenance and availability contract you say to your industry partner Aircraft B doesn’t work get it sorted.

Daniele Mandelli

Morning all.

Yes I’m pleased at this news.

Other companies are moaning there is no competition. I don’t give a stuff. If this is the best choice for our military then they should have it, no mucking around spending years faffing and probably wasting money MOD does not have.


I completely agree, there is plenty of competition the MOD knows what capabilities the alternatives provide and have made a quick and easy decision that the E-7 provides the solution based on available platforms. It is the same with the boxer, when these systems are now mature and have been through multiple test and evaluation competitions why do we need to run another one to find out information that is already available. These 10-20 year procurement cycles from concept to delivery for every acquisition needs to stop.


Again totally agree when the answers aren’t known then I think a competitive process makes sense but when they are as clear as they can be then it simply becomes jobs for the boys in the guise of saving the public imaginary money that ends up costing us fortunes in time, cost and usually confusion. The Boxer and now the Wedgetail show that just maybe common sense and clear thinking is beginning to occur in place of the constant rejigging of time consuming committees to design eventual camels.

Nigel Collins

Agreed BB85, by the time they enter service something better arrives on the scene and it has been superseded.

Technology and innovation move at a faster rate these day’s and we clearly need to up the pace.


To be honest the whole procurement game is a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare forced on government and state agency’s because of legislation, personally I think we need more of a shopping mentality, you don’t procure a car or house you go shopping, find what you want and secure the best deal via negotiation. Procurement is more like advertising a need then having a load of sales people tell you what they will offer you and how much it will cost… can’t even go back and say Bob will do it for £30 can you do it for £20 and… Read more »


(Chris H) Jonathan – that is a cracking analogy! About time the MoD and all the other departments realised they are ‘shopping’ using the British taxpayers credit card. We should have the military work out what we want, see what is available, select the nearest to it, maybe negotiate some easily delivered ‘add ons’ and then order what we can afford. Far better than 15 years of ITT, Tenders, re-Tenders, deferments and then ordering fewer because we wasted so much on the ‘procurement’ stage. Apply your logic to the Navy and we should have got Babcock and A & P… Read more »

Paul Bestwick

I remember the Roll-Royce guy at Farnborough saying that they were looking at imbedding the electricity generation in the heart of the engine for tempest, due to the expected high energy requirements. From what I have read, the E7 is able to change the power output of its radar. Would a big increase in electrical energy available be useful to this aircraft in the future. So is there scope for RR to develop a large airframe engine with this capability, alongside the high performance version?


If we have no competitions then we must have the right to demand greater industrial offsets.

Mr Bell

I think this is clearly the correct process. It would be foolish to spend tens of millions of £ upgrading the E3 sentry aircraft when they are obsolete. If we are going for Wedgetail then at least 8 aircraft will be required and the programme cannot be dragged out over 5 years like the Poseidon programme. Apparently our years of austerity are behind us according to St Theressa. Not sure if Hammond agrees? Regardless the defence budget needs to go up by a minimum of £7 billion per year to ensure current programmes reach fruition and we do not suffer… Read more »


Enough of this halfway nonsense! Buy a truly capable aircraft that can meet the challenges of today, tomorrow, and beyond.

Bring BACK the Shackleton!

Anything less would be risking the safety of Britain!



Leather seats, Rolls Royce engines….surely aviation heaven.


Has stealth technology as well.
Allegedly survived one exercise as enemy fighters mistook it for the battle of Britain memorial lancaster

David Taylor

Nearly thee times the combat radius of P8……..


While this is welcome news, it again brings to the fore an issue that I have been pondering for some time – the increasing numbers of large aircraft that are being procured by the RAF that can’t be refuelled by RAF tankers. If there is no sign of a probe based refuelling system being developed for the Poseidon, Rivet Joint and now this, surely it should be a spur for booms to be added to the Voyager KC2 fleet, as the RAAF have.


Yes – another voice to add to the chorus!


i literally just posted on the last wedgetail article about how we were the only ones short sighted to buy ours without the boom…. a decision driven entirely by accountants methinks, cause even if we didn’t have any boom refueled aircraft (which we do) you’d have thought the raf would’ve preferred the inter-operability with the rest of our nato allies….. if it wasn’t then it was just downright poor planning1


It wouldn’t actually be that difficult to fit probe refuelling. See Marshall Cambridge in falklands. Just whether we can be bothered to pay.


It would be difficult within the current regulatory regime, the fitting of probes to various types during the Falklands conflict were wartime expedients that had lethal consequences in the case of Nimrod.

You would need OEM support, computer modelling and significant paperwork to get it past the MAA.

The best path to self refuelling these types is to get the boom on the Voyager tankers.

J Peter Wilson

I was pleased to read that the MOD has selected the Wedgetail (E-7), that has already been proven in Australian air force operations, to replace the Sentry (E-3D). As has already been said on this site the Wedgetail uses a similar airframe to the Poseidon (P-8A) and this purchase is a good use of tax-payers money especially when Boeing has already committed to make parts of the Wedgetail in Cambridge. However the MOD needs to make sure that all the Boeing made aircraft for the RAF, including the Airseeker (RC-135W River Joint), Globemaster III (C-17), Poseidon (P-8A) and Wedgetail (E-7),… Read more »


Except that argument didn’t wash for the C-17s and seems unlikely for the P-8s too.
Is it reasonable to expect that the cost of retrofitting 2 or 3 Voyagers with centreline boom refueling units would be feasible over the cost of adding or retrofitting 14++ aircraft with probes? Pumping upto 2x the volume of fuel via a boom over the drogue must also be a benefit to minimising time on station for larger aircraft. There is also the value add of future proofing and interoperability with your allies flying F-35A or F-16s, etc.


(Chris H) TwinTiger – while trying to navigate myself around this issue without bringing me into certain people’s line of sarcastic fire but if the Poseidons and future possible Wedgetail are indeed delivered with Boom receptacles then there would be extra costs of retro – fitting 14 aircraft. My experience tells me that Marshalls and especially Cobham are highly capable of doing this work but in fact it really should never be necessary. Now I have never actually suggested that as a FIRST action despite what has been suggested. Just as a possible backup. I really cannot understand that if… Read more »


Thanks Chris, yes I agree that if the decision is made early enough it can and would be best for Boeing to incorporate the probe into the production sequence. At issue I think is still that it needs to be designed, tested and validated which is adding time (relatively – not much, but still).

My overarching point is that the lack of a sovereign boom refuelling facility in the RAF (i.e., beyond the shared NATO tankers) appears to me to be short-sighted, and should be corrected as soon as practical.


My assumption is that if and when it is considered to be needed, they will negotiate the upgrade with the air tanker alliance guys. We have refueling planes that can potentially do both, so i assume it is just not an operational urgency right now to upgrade them.


(Chris H) TwinTiger – If Westland can add a long probe refuelling system on the production line for Italian Air Force Merlins that were never originally designed for such a capability then I really do not understand all the huff and puff about ‘No Boeing can’t possibly do this’.


Nobody is saying that Boeing can’t fit a probe to the E-7 or P-8, what you can’t seem to get into your head is if their primary and subsequent customers for the types the Australia, India, United States, South Korea and Turkey have expressed no requirement for it then Boeing is not going to waste time and resources on it. It should be noted that whilst UK E3D are fitted with a probe they make heavy use out of the boom receptacle out of preference. If the UK came to Boeing and said they would like the capability then no… Read more »


(Chris H) fedaykin – get off your ‘holier than thou’ high horse Pal, stop being overly selective in your pedantic nit picking and then maybe we can have a sensible conversation. Now I can happily ignore your cr*p as I don’t know let alone care who you are but I simply cannot let your continued slurs against Marshalls and Cobham go unchallenged. Boeing are currently building new KC-46 tankers for the USAF. Who is supplying ALL the refuelling systems? Cobham! Lets set aside Boeing’s other issues here because they are not of Cobham’s making. The point being a) Boeing trust… Read more »


“fedaykin – get off your ‘holier than thou’ high horse Pal, stop being overly selective in your pedantic nit picking and then maybe we can have a sensible conversation. Now I can happily ignore your cr*p as I don’t know let alone care who you are but I simply cannot let your continued slurs against Marshalls and Cobham go unchallenged.” = I am not making any slur against Marshalls or Cobham, that you think I am is comic. Boeing, Cobham, Marshalls and the RAF have to operate within a regulatory environment. In this case a regulatory environment policed by the… Read more »


For those who are interested everything that Chris H is failing to understand in his rather Cavalier attitude to air worthiness is covered here:

Nick C

I’m with Helions on this one! There was nothing like the drone of a Shackleton to lift the spirits on the Beira Patrol. They used to fly from Majunga two or three times a week and parachute the “Gan cans” of mail so that we could pick them up with the seaboat. They were also not bad at AEW but I suspect that the radar is probably not up to today’s threats, and they took a heck of a long time to get onto task. Simpler times!


Like this?

comment image



This is totally off-topic, but with two carriers and the F35-B, it seems to me there’s a total absence of currently manufactured V/STOL, VTOL or STOL TRANSPORT aircraft, worldwide in fact. They wouldn’t have to be particularly marinised, as they’d not be carried just used.

Daniele Mandelli

Black Budget of US DoD. Named Senior Citizen if I recall correctly. Stealthy VSTOL Transport aircraft for USSOC.


Mmm, can we have a couple of those please?


There’s the Bell/Boeing V-22. It’s been manufactured and in service since the mid 2000s. SAS would like them but it’s not happening unless the Royal Navy gets the budget for them as COD/Tankers/Transport.

David Taylor

We would be better off investing in CH-47. Opsrey is a very spectacular beast; even more so in the metal as it were. But it is a technical nightmare and expensive. Each cab is practically a sub-type in its own right due to production problems. The RAF must now have a considerable body of knowledge on basing and using CH-47 at sea; a very hostile environment even for machines designed for the environment. Always surprised the US have yet to a produce a marinised CH-47 (folding rotors etc.) I think CH-53K would be problematic and expensive for us too. A… Read more »


Thanks for the answers, all. I think Spain has the Osprey on its Canberra. Yes, sorry it’s the Juan Carlos: “NATO Exercise ‘Trident Juncture’ First deployment of an ‘Osprey’ Squadron on board the LHD ‘Juan Carlos I’ The Embarked Air Unit also included 6 ‘Harriers’ and an AB-212 helicopter. Wednesday, November 11, 2015” I didn’t think of it for transport, just the discussion about refuelling for the F35-B. Takes 10 tonnes (or up to 32 troops). Good, but slow and limited weight. It’s a ridiculous comparison, but the Airbus A400M Atlas is twice as fast and takes 30 tonnes, the… Read more »


(Chris H) dadsarmy – You are right of course. There always was a need and the UK designed and started to develop such a STOL freighter in 1962. It was called the Armstrong Whitworth AW-681. It was a 4 jet freighter that was to use RR Medway pylon mounted engines with vectored thrust nozzles under wings with boundary layer control and blown flaps. Yes vectored thrust in 1962. A VTOL version would have deployed 4 x Pegasus engines. Who needs Ospreys …. The AW-681 was ordered by the Tories in ’62 with a nominal 50 unit build and cancelled by… Read more »

Albert Starburst

I agree with your thoughts Chris. Our wartime skill-set was frittered away on the altar of British naivety and short-sight (IMHO) at great cost to the long-term British-owned (profits to the UK) hi-tech manufacturing aerospace industry.


You forgot the Fairey Rotodyne. Really the most disappointing cancellation. It had a greater passenger capacity than the Osprey. Had it been procured and likely upgraded with better engines throughout it’s life it likely would had a similar lift weight and speed than the Osprey.

Christopher Hayward

(Chris H) Elliott – Once again I am more than happy to agree with you. The Rotodyne as David Taylor says was typical of how the UK would develop an idea then build the damn thing. No messing. And all this was created from private companies in 1950 with a Government contract in 1953 In fairness to the political point I made about our Labour Government in ’65 the Rotodyne was cancelled in ’62 by the Tories. In fact its whole gestation was riddled with a lack of political will and the chopping and changing of Government demands. Given the… Read more »


If I recall correctly the noise was only really bad according to Fairey at take off. When it use the rotor jets after that no worse than any other turboprop. Even then it was less noisy than a train going by supposedly. As for the US? The Army really wanted it for the then forming Air Cav formations. Because it promised more than Chinook and could complement the smaller Huey. Problem was US law at the time required that in order for a overseas company to receive development aid their host country had to place an order. That meant either… Read more »

Albert Starburst

Not forgetting also the Skyship series of Airships in the 1980s. Company always going broke though. Years ahead of Boeing and Goodyear at the time and teamed up with Westinghouse for a mid-Atlantic AEW platform on station for a week at a time to counter long-range Rooskie cruise missiles (US Navy “Star Wars” defence contract). Could never sort out the bad weather/ground handling issues. UK Gov/military not interested.

Not sure that the 21st century incarnation (Airlander) has remembered the experience (ThermoSkyship also lost the prototype Skyship durning bad weather at the mast)?

David Taylor

Hello Chris H,

What I find with sites with this is that commentators tend to be more in ‘violent agreement’ than ‘violent disagreement’. It is a very emotive subject for those interested in it because ‘defence’ too many of us is a core issue. Not for itself but because of what is at stake, our society.

I bare you no ill will. 🙂


Chris, when you think of what was, and what was thrown away, it is very sad.

Steve Salt

Thunderbird 2 ? ?


G’day all,

First post here (been reading for a while here from Oz).

Here’s something that I think you might all enjoy reading:

It’s a 35 page presentation with commentary from some RAAF people who have been heavily involved with Wedgetail (it’s approx. three years old now), Enjoy!!


Nick C

Helions, just like that, and I must have been there round about the same time. Sadly nostalgia doesn’t win wars!

Albert Starburst

Not forgetting also the Skyship series of Airships in the 1980s. Company always going broke though. Years ahead of Boeing and Goodyear at the time and teamed up with Westinghouse for a mid-Atlantic AEW platform on station for a week at a time to counter long-range Rooskie cruise missiles (US Navy “Star Wars” defence contract). Could never sort out the bad weather/ground handling issues. UK Gov/military not interested.

Not sure that the 21st century incarnation (Airlander) has remembered the experience (ThermoSkyship also lost the prototype Skyship durning bad weather at the mast)?

Christopher Fox

I’m fed up of us spending billions on kit with no U.K. manufacturing jobs as part of the deal. Once again we’re going down the US Putchasing route again. On the Defence Select Committee this week there was talk as to why Airbus couldn’t provide a solution or for that matter SAAB. What about us talking to Japan as they had a maritime solution we could have gone for, so why not talk to Japan about a Sentry replacement. Let’s at least try to get some UK jobs in manufacturing out this purchase. The MOD are panicking because they need… Read more »

Gary Saunders.

Wedgetail a great aircraft but u need the refueling aircraft modified to work with it will this happen.?

[…] Secretary Gavin Williamson recently announced that the Ministry of Defence is in discussion with Boeing about the potential for the E-7 Wedgetail […]


Just a thought, if the Americans, French and Saudi’s are keeping their AWACS fleet, is it worth Britain refurbishing its E3D Sentry fleet to the latest standards. Maybe get 10 plus years more service out of the fleet, although spare parts will be a bigger problem. I understand they could have a lot of hours left on the airframes, since only 2-3 are available at any time. It looks like the once 7 E3D Sentry fleet has been underfunded and cannabalised for years. Whats to prevent the MOD doing the same to the future Wedgetail purchase in future. The RAF… Read more »