NATO has announced the selection of its next-generation command and control aircraft, moving forward with the Boeing E-7A Wedgetail to replace its existing E-3 Airborne Warning and Control (AWACS) fleet, which is nearing retirement.
The production of six new E-7A aircraft is expected to begin in the coming years, with the first aircraft slated to be ready for operational duty by 2031.
This decision follows approval from a consortium of Allied nations.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg commented on the development, stating, “Surveillance and control aircraft are crucial for NATO’s collective defence and I welcome Allies’ commitment to investing in high-end capabilities.”
He also noted the benefits of pooling resources, enabling Allies to collectively purchase and operate assets that would be too costly for individual countries. Stoltenberg added, “This investment in state-of-the-art technology shows the strength of transatlantic defence cooperation as we continue to adapt to a more unstable world”.
The E-7 Wedgetail, an advanced early warning and control aircraft, is equipped with a sophisticated radar system. It is capable of detecting hostile aircraft, missiles, and ships at great distances and can direct NATO fighter jets to their targets.
The aircraft is based on a militarised version of the Boeing 737 jetliner. Countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Türkiye either currently operate the Wedgetail or plan to do so.
Since the 1980s, NATO has operated a fleet of E-3A AWACS aircraft from Geilenkirchen Air Base in Germany. These aircraft have been involved in every major NATO operation, including actions against ISIS and on NATO’s eastern flank following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The E-7 is expected to be primarily based at Geilenkirchen and may operate from several forward locations across Europe. It will be a part of NATO’s future surveillance and control project, which aims to introduce the next generation of surveillance systems by the mid-2030s.