Two of the five E-7 Wedgetail early warning aircraft will be converted passenger jets.
The information came to light in a letter from the Defence Committee to Government asking questions about the recently finalised £1.5bn deal.
Dr Julian Lewis, chair of the Defence Committee, asked in a letter:
“For what reason are you confident that the aircraft will be delivered in four and a half years, when the production line has been closed for five years and historically the minimum time between contract signature and first delivery of these aircraft has been at least six years?”
Stuart Andrew, Minister for Defence Procurement, answered:
“The Seattle production line for the 737NG aircraft, which is then modified to become an E-7 AEW&C, is still operating and producing multiple military variants of the 737NG (including the Poseidon P8) for the US, UK and other customers.
Boeing has sourced two 737NG from the commercial market and secured a further three production slots on this Seattle production line in 2021 and 2022 to meet our needs. The conversion of these five aircraft to the E-7 AEW&C standard will be undertaken at Marshall Aerospace’s facilities in Cambridge.
Boeing have significant experience of the conversion from the 737NG to E-7 having previously set up conversion facilities in three separate countries. They have already started work with Marshall Aerospace, bringing in an experienced team who were involved in the previous conversions to ensure lessons have been learnt and are applied.
Robust project management disciplines are being applied by industry that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) will continually monitor, for example, the MOD has recently visited Marshall Aerospace to assure itself of progress.”
We sourced some low hours aircraft in order to jump start our programme without having to wait for slots on the @Boeing skyline. It helps accelerate the initial conversions and therefore introduce the new aircraft as quickly as we can 🙂
— Assistant Chief, Royal Air Force (@Ian_Gale) May 10, 2019
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.