The first two of three E-7 Wedgetail airborne early warning aircraft for the Royal Air Force are starting to take shape.

Air Marshal Andrew Turner of the Royal Air Force tweeted the following:

STS Aviation is converting three Boeing 737 airliners into E-7 Wedgetail airborne early warning aircraft at its facility at Birmingham Airport.

An E-7 Wedgetail of the Royal Australian Air Force. Photo by Bidgee [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons.

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. This aircraft is replacing the E-3D Sentry, pictured below.

FILE PHOTO: E-3D Sentry

The plan, previously, was five aircraft but the recent ‘Defence Command Paper’ reduced the order from five to three. The Defence Command Paper released, titled ‘Defence in a Competitive Age’, stated:

“We will retire the E 3D Sentry in 2021, as part of the transition to the more modern and more capable fleet of three E 7A Wedgetail in 2023. The E 7A will transform our UK Airborne Early Warning and Control capability and the UK’s contribution to NATO. The nine P 8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft will help to secure our seas.”

The first of the E-7 Wedgetails purchased by the UK to replace the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning And Control aircraft will arrive in 2023.

It is also understood that the U.S. Air Force is expected to purchase the E-7 Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft at some point next year. You can read more about that by clicking here or clicking below.

U.S. Air Force to buy E-7 Wedgetail early warning aircraft

George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. He also works for the NHS. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Angus
Angus
7 months ago

Not nearly the number needed to undertake the role. Minimum of 6 needed, the Auzzies have a better balanced Air Force than we have and spent a lot less. Even with high tech you need numbers………..😟

Emjay
Emjay
7 months ago
Reply to  Angus

I quite agree Angus. Sadly, nothing ever changes in the minds of politicians when it comes to Defence of the Realm. The fingers crossed approach (hope it never happens) when it comes down to the number of viable and meaningful assets is disgraceful.

Last edited 7 months ago by Emjay
DP
DP
7 months ago
Reply to  Angus

I’m no expert Angus but I have worked on aircraft before and can appreciate the overhead maintenance and training places on a fleet, not to mention the unpredictable nature of un-serviceability. Throw in some logistic challenges you might face when operating ‘000s miles from your home base and a fleet of just 3 E-7s means we’re only ever going to be able to ‘reliably’ support 1 operation/mission and, with that, a mission duration a single crew can sustain. Maybe a relief crew might increase the availability but you then place more of a strain on your 1 operational E-7 in… Read more »

Klonkie
Klonkie
7 months ago
Reply to  DP

Great observations DP, I agree as you are spot on. My Air Force experiences echo your comments.

DP
DP
7 months ago
Reply to  Klonkie

👍

Ron
Ron
7 months ago
Reply to  Angus

I agree, three Wedgetails limits the amount of availability on station. Many will argue about cost which I suppose is a major limiting factor and yet can you ever have enough defence. I would have thought with the RAF having the P8 and the E7 that airframe and engine costs would come down. Possibly we could think of a two teir EAW system, maybe we could use the E7 as the command and control, get some more 737s and install SAAB GlobalEye and combine the lost capabilities of the Sentinal into this model.Again cost, but I think this method would… Read more »

DP
DP
7 months ago
Reply to  Ron

There’s probably something in what you suggest Ron although I’m no expert to suggest what the solution would look like. I’d hope someone up high is planning something like this going forwards. As the Voyager fleet has shown to some extent, with flight refuelling, cargo and passenger all wrapped up into one air frame, we probably need one air frame shell that all facets of ISTAR could be rolled up into. I appreciate what I’m suggesting won’t be as easy to implement as simply loading one piece of software in place of another but, imagine a 737 air frame (for… Read more »

Heidfirst
Heidfirst
7 months ago
Reply to  Ron

I suspect that the MoD/RAF are eyeing a hybrid AEW force incl. a future UAV capability …

Marked
Marked
7 months ago
Reply to  Heidfirst

Going to take a seriously large UAV to have the power to not only carry but actually provide power to the radar and also have long endurance. I haven’t seen anything remotely close to this.

Smudge
Smudge
7 months ago
Reply to  Marked

Check out Northrop’s Global Hawk (called Triton by the USN). The RAF has been salivating for 6 for a number of years.

OkamsRazor
OkamsRazor
7 months ago
Reply to  Ron

Guys you’re living in the past the future is more unmanned assets and fewer but more advanced manned assets.

DP
DP
7 months ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

The future is almost certainly UAV based OkamsRazor to a large extent, I agree with you on that but where are these systems now or in the foreseeable future? It’s not about living in the past so much as maintaining capability with what is available now. It seems to me that, yet again, we’re facing a capability gap of a few years while Wedgetail is integrated into the fleet but when it eventually is we’ll have a significant capability limit. We’re only thinking and looking at AEW UAV ideas right now but have nothing concrete to make up the shortfall… Read more »

Meirion x
Meirion x
7 months ago
Reply to  DP

Precisely!

Ian
Ian
7 months ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

It would be great to see some of these unmanned assets in the air….
Where are these assets being tested ,
Many thanks Ian

Angus
Angus
7 months ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

Long Endurance Vehicles have some advantages but are generally controlled via sat up links which are not as secure as you may expect and delays etc etc of info rather than team there. AI may be a way forward but do we really want computers deciding what actions need taking? Killer robots? I think not. Man in loop a must no matter what. Got to have rules to safe guard human life in such cases.

Clueless Observer
Clueless Observer
7 months ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

If unmanned is the future, why is the USA now looking at a wedgetail buy ? Reality is three airframes provides little scope for deployed ops, we should have stuck with the five (two less than the original E-3 purchase but the air force has coped with this for a good few years and the performance of E-7 Is better) and kept them at RAF Waddington, keeping all the air forces E-8, E-7 and half the fast jet fleet on one station is asking for trouble at Lossie. However the move to Lossie appears to be down to the jets… Read more »

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
7 months ago

Mind you when the US interest was mentioned previously the question was about whether it was a stop gap solution till unmanned and satellite solutions were fully operational or whether it was to a long term multi layered approach. I suspect they will persist with the latter approach for as long as possible though it will be interesting to see if they replace like for like. I guess they can afford multi layered better than us mind even if they are feeling the pinch somewhat too in their military ambitions.

DRS
DRS
7 months ago

I am hoping there is some secret we will also buy 3x more E7 and are part of the bigger US order to get a lower cost / efficiency? Wishful thinking there it is too sensible 🙂

Klonkie
Klonkie
7 months ago

Thx CO, I’m liking your plan. 5 does appear to be the practical number.

OkamsRazor
OkamsRazor
7 months ago

We all pine for the good old days, but unfortunately those days are not coming back, all modern airforce are getting smaller as forces use more holistic methods to prosecute goals, which include better technology reach due to advances in software and processing power and more available platforms.

Clueless Observer
Clueless Observer
7 months ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

I think everyone recognises that military fleets have to reduce from the old cold war strengths but a fleet of 3 ? (Can 3 even be a fleet ?!) This is tokenism, just saying that we have a capability on the pretence of still being a major power. What is the fast jet fleet down to now ? @150 ? And staying that way when the Tranche 1’s go. At least get a boom on the voyagers to extend the E-7 and E-8’s mission time. I think this is the frustrating part, we drop/gap capabilities, reduce desired fleet sizes and… Read more »

Craig
Craig
6 months ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

So why is the US on the way to returning to Cold War levels to combat the Chinese and Russians?

Craig
Craig
6 months ago

It just means the 3 E-7s will be worked into the ground. Even 5 wasn’t enough. The US has 31 E-3 AWACS. You could argue the RAF needs at least 9- 12 to ensure at least 3- 4 will always be available. And the P-8s? Really at least 24. Why have KC-30s (stupid name Voyager) without booms? Makes no sense. Meanwhile the USAF is expanding the number of it’s squadrons so it can combat the red Chinese. Now is comparable to the 1930s and Britain is even in a worse state of preparedness. Meanwhile the Australian military is in the… Read more »

Meirion x
Meirion x
7 months ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

Unmanned AEW can easily be interfered with, and jammed, or even to blind it!
Our adversaries will stop at nothing to counter our defence capabilities!

Last edited 7 months ago by Meirion x
Meirion x
Meirion x
7 months ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

Neither are the public ready for uncrewed jet liners in the sky.

Chris rebel
Chris rebel
7 months ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

The problem with unmanned assets is they need a comm link with the ground. Until AI gets so good that it can react and retask it’self, it will need a pilot on the ground. The issue with that is near peer actors (list growing by the day) will flood and trash the entire comm spectrum in a war. You’ll have no reliable communication with your UAVs.

OkamsRazor
OkamsRazor
7 months ago
Reply to  Chris rebel

I presume, as a reader of this blog, that you have heard of low probability of intercept communications protocols being used by the F-35 and rolled out to the rest of the fleet.

Chris rebel
Chris rebel
7 months ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

LPOI is detection. Detection means nothing. The entire EM spectrum will be flooded and unusable for any reliable comms. Think of it as EW’s version of area denial.

Steve M
Steve M
7 months ago
Reply to  Ron

fit 2 Lockheed Vigilance pods to the outboard missile wing mount on P8’s ?

Stewart Lowe
Stewart Lowe
6 months ago
Reply to  Angus

Don’t let Jeremy Clarkson here you talk like that…he reviles us orse-tralians as it is. It’s appalling that the Royal Air Force, “The Few”, Clarkson, “The Dam Busters” would stoop to taking ideas from us.

TS
TS
7 months ago

The purchase of such low numbers will only make sense if we actually get some form of a drone or networked swarm in good time as per what the mod have alluded to. I get the E7 may be vulnerable in certain environments, but would a drone have the power and radar size to recreate anything like what the E7 has in regard to reach and detail?

OkamsRazor
OkamsRazor
7 months ago
Reply to  TS

News flash drones like Predator/Protector are no longer small

Andrew
Andrew
7 months ago

I’m hoping that the mod might order 2 or 3 more when the US puts in any order for them. Might help keep the cost down.

DRS
DRS
7 months ago
Reply to  Andrew

yes that would be best + get a older passenger airplane/2 for crew training or make them go through BAs pilot training courses?

Robert Blay.
Robert Blay.
7 months ago
Reply to  DRS

The RAF has it’s own multi engine traning for it’s tanker/transport fleet crews. They don’t need old passenger aircraft. That is just a massive waste of funds that could be much better spent.

Lusty
Lusty
7 months ago

All this talk about numbers… I’m just happy to see them going green!

They’ll name the first one ‘Pride of Greta’.

(I’m on a roll… Lusty Tuesdays might have to be a thing now too…)

Klonkie
Klonkie
7 months ago
Reply to  Lusty

Indeed you are! You’ll be hard pressed to up the anti on Friday, but I look forward to it! I do hope the green mantra applies to the crew meal options.

Vegan organic ready meals with a nice soy/almond milk latte. Ethically sustainable sourced beans off course. Cups and plates made from re- cycled compost from a medicinal cannabis co operative commune in the US Pacific North West. Tune in and drop out, man!

Challenger
Challenger
7 months ago

The bean counters most probably think the promise of jam tomorrow in the shape of advanced unmanned systems justifies procuring the absolute minimum of air-frames now.

Problem is the uncertainty around if and when drones can offer the same level of capability. How many years until a stopgap is no longer a stopgap?

David Steeper
David Steeper
7 months ago

I think i’ve found the best job in the world. Be a high up in the UK armed forces. It doesn’t matter how bad a job you do everyone will blame the politicians for not giving you enough money. The world is full of armed services to compare our own with. Some do a better job some worse. If you want to know where ours are in the league table just compare what we get for our money and what they get for more but overwhelmingly less. For what little it’s worth my own gold standard is the USMC.

Mr Mark Franks
Mr Mark Franks
7 months ago

3 is not enough even with proposed drone capability. It really defies logic and once in service we will be told that one will be online with 2 in use reserves which means one in the shed and one with snags. These airframes are going to have very busy lives.

Klonkie
Klonkie
7 months ago

3 is simply insufficient. When there is a surge requirement for a sustained ops tempo, watch the wheels come off. To exacerbate things, there is not only the maintenance requirements on the aircraft, but all the internal systems, software and hardware. My overriding memory from my experiences as an Air Force Ops officer ” If something can brake down – it wilI”

The being said , I mean no disrespect to the maintenance and ops crews. Thank you for your tireless efforts, professionalism and dedication, I’d value any input on the subject from ex E3 Sentry drivers/crews.

Graeme Chidgey
Graeme Chidgey
6 months ago

I’ve always wondered if the cut from 5 to 3 was also because the MOD didnt want to pay for new built aircraft. Still hoping that when 2 and 3 are further along, they will go get a couple more ex airline 737-700s.