The Royal Air Force has pointed the finger at aerospace giant Boeing for delays in the delivery of the critical E-7 airborne early warning capability.
During a session with the Defence Select Committee, Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Knighton provided stark testimony on the state of the RAF’s airborne early warning capabilities, underscoring the pressing gap left by delayed E-7 aircraft.
“We have a gap with E-7. We have a gap in airborne early warning capability,” Knighton stated, acknowledging the issue has been a recurrent topic in the committee. When pressed by Mr. Mark Francois MP on the slippage of the program, Knighton confirmed, “There are clear signs that Boeing is unable to deliver against the timeline that it had set.”
Despite the urgent need for the E-7’s capabilities, especially in the context of ongoing international tensions exemplified by the situation in Ukraine, the RAF has not yet secured these critical assets. With the original timeline for delivery already missed, the pressure is on both Boeing and the Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) to expedite the process.
Knighton detailed the efforts being made to press Boeing, highlighting the role of a particularly “scary individual,” the senior responsible owner of the program, in driving the necessary performance and delivery.
“There are a whole range of problems, and there is no one silver bullet or magic wand that we can wave over it,” said Knighton, indicating the complexity of the issue at hand.
The difficulties, as noted by Knighton, stem not only from Boeing’s own internal challenges but also from their management of subcontractors and the underestimation of certification processes with regulatory bodies like the Military Aviation Authority.
When Mr. Francois asked for a straightforward delivery date, Knighton projected an initial operating capability (IOC) year of 2025 but hesitated to provide a specific date, acknowledging the potential for future setbacks and the importance of certainty before committing to a timeline.
“This requires us to drive Boeing, it requires Boeing to respond by driving its subcontractors, and it requires us to work tightly with the likes of the Military Aviation Authority,” he elaborated, painting a picture of the multifaceted endeavor to bring the E-7 to operational status.
In a telling exchange, Mr Kevan Jones MP sought clarity on the root of the issue, asking: “Is this Boeing’s problem?”.
Knighton unequivocally responded, “Yes, fundamentally. Boeing took on a contract to deliver a capability in a timescale that it has been unable to do it in.”
The RAF’s candidness in attributing the E-7 delay to Boeing underscores the level of urgency and frustration within the UK’s defence circles. It seems clear that the RAF is actively working to mitigate the delay’s impact on national security, but the message to Boeing is unequivocal: the current state of affairs is unacceptable, and time is of the essence.