Testing recently started on the MESA sensor destined for the UK’s 1st E-7.

According to the manufacturers here, the MESA radar electronically scans the skies around the Boeing 737-based aircraft, “providing the warfighter with an unrestricted 360-degree view. The powerful MESA sensor provides mission crews with the tools needed to track airborne and maritime targets while maintaining continuous surveillance of the operational area”.

They add:

“The MESA radar for the AEW&C system provides critical domain awareness for warfighters and allows them to see farther and make accelerated and informed decisions to meet mission objectives.”

Last year I reported that the first two of three E-7 Wedgetail airborne early warning aircraft for the Royal Air Force were 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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Farouk
Farouk
9 days ago

I do wonder if the British iteration will be an improved version (taking in all advancements since the orginal came on line (Aus) in 2012

John N
John N
9 days ago
Reply to  Farouk

The RAAF E-7A fleet has undergone regular upgrades.

For example Project AIR 5077 Phase 5A is valued at A$582.5m and due for completion mid this year:

https://www.minister.defence.gov.au/minister/marise-payne/media-releases/minister-defence-minister-defence-industry-joint-media-release

Further upgrades are in the pipeline with the Government here in Oz budgeting multi-billion dollar allocations for those additional capability upgrades too.

Put simply, the Wedgetail of today is a very different bird to when it originally entered service, and it will continue to evolve.

One would assume you Poms would follow the current RAAF configuration.

Cheers,

Farouk
Farouk
9 days ago
Reply to  John N

John, thanks for that, the only thing I worry about with the British MOD is it’s penchant for saving money by not upgrading stuff resulting in expensive kit becoming unfit for purpose.

John N
John N
9 days ago
Reply to  Farouk

No problem mate, Yes well, if they don’t lock in an upgrade path for the E-7A during their RAF service life they will find themselves in the same boat again (eg, an orphan E-3 fleet out of step with the other E-3 users). You might find the attached PDF interesting, it’s is a plan for new and upgraded RAAF capabilities from 2020 onwards: https://www.defence.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-11/Factsheet_Air.pdf You’ll notice that the RAAF Wedgetail fleet has a ‘capability upgrades’ budget allocation of between A$2.3b-A$3.5b, which spans from 2022 to the late 2020s. You’ll also notice the Government here in Oz has also set out… Read more »

johan
johan
8 days ago
Reply to  John N

RAF/MOD is looking more at the USAF Standard E-7s and going forward, the current planned 3, could be sold off quite quickly once the USAF spec is approved.

John N
John N
8 days ago
Reply to  johan

And you don’t think the USAF version won’t be closely based on the 10+ years of RAAF E-7A operational service and experience?

We are yet to see what the USAF version will look like, the more they change from the current RAAF configuration, the longer the delay in entering service.

dan
dan
9 days ago
Reply to  Farouk

Would be interesting to know if the radar no uses GaN technology.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
9 days ago
Reply to  dan

Rather the point of upgrades to get the better power and S/N ratio that can only come from that?

johan
johan
8 days ago
Reply to  Farouk

Its the same as the current RAAF, with updated software and hardware, the big step will be the development now for the USAF.

Chris
Chris
9 days ago

Will these be flown by common crew with the P-8? Different mission but same type rating.

ETH
ETH
9 days ago
Reply to  Chris

Certainly different crew at the operator consoles. Completely different mission set. I imagine the pilots will also need separate training.

DRS
DRS
8 days ago
Reply to  Chris

Could you ever get the Wedgetail sensor on the same base Boeing as a p8 rather than having two base types in the RAF. Seems a bit odd we don’t just standardise one 1 platform unless there are major operating cost differences between the two (I.e. operating a wedge tail from 737 base model is significantly cheaper. )

Any thoughts or wise musings?

Heidfirst
Heidfirst
8 days ago
Reply to  DRS

the cost of doing the engineering/testing/approval work for just a couple of airframes would be prohibitive. It might be viable if the USAF pushed Boeing for it though for their expected much larger order/needs – but the USAF don’t operate P8s so don’t have the need for commonality .

Last edited 8 days ago by Heidfirst
ETH
ETH
7 days ago
Reply to  DRS

They are quite different platforms. Completely different operator consoles internally, plus the P8 has a bomb bay and sunobouy dispensers that would be dead weight on an E7.

LongTime
LongTime
28 minutes ago
Reply to  Chris

Same civilian type rating yes. BUT in a military sense P8 and E7, are structurally and aerodynamically different aircraft and entirely different operational flight envelopes. So lots of added training. DRS As ETH points out E7 would be carrying a wing, weapons and buoy tubes it won’t need, whereas P8 would be flying around without the wings needed for the added fatigue stresses of operating in the low altitude environment and no way of of deploying weapons as the weapons bay is part of the wing modifications too. Theoretically they could make a joint P8/E7 training aircraft utilising synthetic technology… Read more »

Last edited 26 minutes ago by LongTime
David
David
9 days ago

The Royal Navy is hoping to move from.a helicopter based Crowsnest to an unmanned AEW,/C system under Project Vixen by the mid 2030s If a sensor can be placed on unmanned platforms and networked to QE or a Type 45 , then a similar drone fleet might actually be a way of mitigating what seems to be insufficient numbers of Wedgetail. Whether large manned AEW airline based systems will be viable with the next generation of extended range AAMs coming online in the next decade is debatable. If wedgetail could place several networked unmanned systems 250km upthreat , that would… Read more »

OkamsRazor
OkamsRazor
9 days ago
Reply to  David

David, Afraid you are slightly confused. The P8A Poseidon is a Sea Surveilance platform. The E7A Wedgtail (replacing E3D Sentry), is a Land/Battlefield overwatch and communications management platform. The respective radars are optimised for their respective roles.
I believe the Crowsnest replacement date is around 2030. I would imagine that we will have a clearer view of the available platforms in 2/3 years time when various decisions are made in the US and in regard to Vixen.

ETH
ETH
9 days ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

E7 is for Airborne Early Warning primarily, it cannot view ground targets.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
9 days ago
Reply to  ETH

Ummmm well not really but never mind…….

DaveyB
DaveyB
7 days ago
Reply to  ETH

You may want to check that?

David
David
9 days ago
Reply to  OkamsRazor

Merlin with Crowsnest radar system provides air, land and maritime tracking. E-7A in Australian use with the MESA provides target tracking in the air maritime and land environments ( RAN also hinted that when deployed over Syria it could provide a moving target indication role of insurgent supply routes as well as some inbuilt ELINT capability within yhe sensor , the sensor actually shared some DNA with the original programme that led to sentinel) E-3 customers , at least those that funded upgrades, had limited surveillance roles over water. Yes ,P8 is a different mission, primary ASW and maritime surveillance… Read more »

OkamsRazor
OkamsRazor
9 days ago
Reply to  David

Yeah, as I said.

johan
johan
8 days ago
Reply to  David

Main Issue with Crowsnest and Merlin, Merlin has a out of service date of 2030. was always intended as a quick fix. and the Crowsnest Pod which was rejected due to not tried and trusted is still in development.

Chipper
Chipper
8 days ago
Reply to  johan

2040

taffybadger
taffybadger
9 days ago

It still seems odd every time I read a purchase of ‘ three ‘ …I know they are way more potent, but as a former aircraft tech, we had about 20ish (memory might be generous) Nimrods at RAF Kinloss when I joined in 2001, about 7 max were operational at any one time (excluding training and 1st line maintenance). I know these are new and spanking, but one airborne, one in reserve, one in maintenance…in optimal conditions. Time will tell.

Last edited 9 days ago by taffybadger
Paul42
Paul42
9 days ago
Reply to  taffybadger

Yes it will. The UK will have a world leading capability if and when an airframe is actually available…….

Ron
Ron
9 days ago
Reply to  taffybadger

Taffybadger, I agree, one airborne, one ready and one in maintenance and that is only from the tec side (sensor suite) of things which I understand. Then comes the engine, airframe maintenance which for me is a bit gobbilygook, if I can’t walk there or swim there then hell no. It also appears to this ground hugger that as good as the E-7 might be we do not have the numbers to operate anywhere in the world as they would be tied to a UK airbase. What needs to be remembered is time to get to where you need to… Read more »

AlbertStarburst
AlbertStarburst
9 days ago
Reply to  Ron

This was tried in the UK in the1980s by Airship Industries. They hooked up with Westinghouse and their AWACS radar to have such loitering mid-Atlantic for long-endurances (1-week+). This was as part of a requirement for a hush-hush huge US Navy contract. Trouble is it needed a big airship (lots of development £££s). I don’t think anybody ever solved the show-stopper problems of ground handling and what to do in strong winds/storms? Good luck to Airlander though.

Bob
Bob
8 days ago

I always wondered why Airlander used diesel engines rather than cover the top surface with solar panels and use electric motors? At 20,000ft it would be above most of the heavy cloud.

AlbertStarburst
AlbertStarburst
8 days ago
Reply to  Bob

Dunno. For military use the original Airship Industries (Skyships) had a bad IR signature from the envelope due to solar superheat effect. I wonder if solar panels/film would help reduce that problem if ever used for Airlander?

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
8 days ago
Reply to  Bob

At the time the weight penalty would have been huge. Even now an issue with thin film.

I’m not sure there is enough area to harvest enough power for peak pulse output in a high power radar. Otherwise you end up with heavy batteries……you need those at night…..so you have a daytime only early warning radar system….

Matt
Matt
8 days ago
Reply to  Bob

That would need flexible solar panels, or an interesting mounting system.

It would also need a solution for nighttime and winter, which would then need some kind of storage system for over night, and in practice could require a nearly complete duplicate systems to cover the gaps.

I just don’t think we are their yet technologically.

DaveyB
DaveyB
7 days ago
Reply to  Ron

I believe I have proposed this before. However, there is the issue of buoyancy weight versus max take-off weight. If we took the current Airlander 10 hybrid air vehicle, covered it in solar panels. It still wouldn’t generate enough electricity to power the propulsion, as well as the radar system, radios, hotel system etc. You will still need a/or a set of high powered diesel generator/s to produce the bulk of the power. The Airlander 10 can carry a 10,000kg payload for 5 days (or 4000 NM) at an altitude of 20,000ft. The airship could easily operate the mechanically scanned… Read more »

johan
johan
8 days ago
Reply to  taffybadger

The main Guide i would look at is E-7s are quoted as being a far superior to the E-3s.
USAF is planning on replacing 1 in 3 of its E3s fleet.

Matt
Matt
8 days ago
Reply to  taffybadger

I’m not sure these are new and spanking.

When they were planning 5, 3 were refitted secondhand planes.

Last edited 8 days ago by Matt
JamesD
JamesD
9 days ago

seeing those guys in the cherry picker next to the radar really gives you a sense of scale of just got big that thing is. Wouldn’t want to be next to that when it’s switched on.

Jay R
Jay R
9 days ago

Why such a small fleet?

Paul42
Paul42
9 days ago
Reply to  Jay R

Inept politicians

DMJ
DMJ
9 days ago
Reply to  Paul42

Boeing pushing the price up so we could only afford 3 for the same price as for the 5 we originally planned

Paul42
Paul42
9 days ago
Reply to  DMJ

A deal was signed for 1.98 Billion US Dollars for 5 Aircraft, that was cut to 3 as part of Defence review (we couldn’t afford it….) However, now the US is actively seeking to buy the E7, the UK could take advantage of reduced unit costs to purchase the 2 additional aircraft, or perhaps 3?

Last edited 9 days ago by Paul42
DMJ
DMJ
9 days ago
Reply to  Paul42

Again it was cut because Boeing pushed the price up, no doubt trying to offset in a very small way the 737 Max debacle and the collapse of commercial a nation due to Covid

DMJ
DMJ
9 days ago
Reply to  DMJ

Aviation

Bob
Bob
9 days ago
Reply to  DMJ

Cough, converted second hand airframes, cough.

DMJ
DMJ
9 days ago
Reply to  Bob

Hayfever? Still stripped and supplied by Boeing. I believe the 4th nd 5th would have been new builds.

Bob
Bob
8 days ago
Reply to  DMJ

Here in the UK. The reduction in numbers lies squarely at the door of the UK government.

johan
johan
8 days ago
Reply to  Bob

Maybe somewhere, someone knows more than You, and there was a valid reason for cutting the 4th and 5th. that would be obsolete on there delivery, due to the USAF development program.

DMJ
DMJ
8 days ago
Reply to  johan

I concur. We could well still get the other 2 aircraft in the back of the USAF interim order of E7

Bob
Bob
8 days ago
Reply to  johan

I did not say that there wasn’t a valid reason for cutting numbers.
Your “Obsolete” argument is facile. The US is likely to purchase the system and there is a route for continual upgrade available (See RAAF plans).

It is possible that the number was cut because the RAF is expecting to move to an unmanned platform in the near future. However it remains most likely that the reason was a simple desire to save money.

DMJ
DMJ
8 days ago
Reply to  Bob

Or simply to not spend more than we had the budget for

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
8 days ago
Reply to  Bob

Why not?

They have loads of life left in them?

johan
johan
8 days ago
Reply to  Paul42

There is a White Paper covering the final 2 aircraft, and their delivery, and it revolves around there expected delivery and the upgrade of the E7s for USAF. 2025 and that the final 2 would be outdated.

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
8 days ago
Reply to  johan

It is interesting – there is clearly a new ‘something’ in the works for the USAF E7’s.

In that regard it is interesting that we bought three at all?

DJ
DJ
8 days ago

There was no guarantee that USAF were going to buy any at all till announcement was made this year. They won’t have an operational aircraft in service till 2027. Give them a year to work out any bugs. If the RAF had waited, they would not have had an operational E7A till 2030 (conversion takes around 2 years). The E3’s are gone already. I am not too sure that the USAF E7A will in fact be all that different to the RAAF version. The RAAF version works on a continuous upgrade regime – something that confused Boeing for a year… Read more »

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
8 days ago
Reply to  DJ

Reading between the lines there is extra tech going into the USAF E7.

USAF are not exactly new to doing things their way and discarding good proven solutions on the back of NIH?

Hence, the comments about the final 2, of the original 5, UK E7’s being out of date by ISD never mind OSD.

In the sensor / EW areas things are accelerating as new technologies are being pushed to the fore. More of what used to be done backend is now done on the sensor surface. I suspect some of the Captor technology is in the UK E7s.

DJ
DJ
8 days ago

While I am sure there will be extra tech, Australia is not standing still. S.Korea & Turkey also have some excellent engineers as well. UK is now adding to the mix. The RAAF E7A of 2012 is not the same as the E7A of 2022. The RAAF E7A of 2022 will not be the same as the E7A of 2027. As to RAF E7A’s quickly becoming obsolete, it will in a big part depend on them joining & contributing to the Australian continuous upgrade program (Australia initiated & paid for the E7 & treats the E7 as ‘their’ program). This… Read more »

Jon
Jon
9 days ago

Do AEW assets fit seemlessly into a distributed kill chain, or are threats just presented on a screen for command and control to say: there’s a bad guy over there? Or something in the middle? What’s the difference in capability between the air detection capabilities of a multi-domain radar system like the Osprey 30 and dedicated AEW radar? Is it purely range and the ability to pick out targets at a distance, or is there something specific that AEW radars do that multimode radars don’t/can’t? Ignoring Command and Control, could you fit a MCA Beechcraft with the right datalinks and… Read more »

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
8 days ago
Reply to  Jon

Weight, range, altitude, endurance, radar power, cooling…….

Two totally different aircraft systems for different applications…..

DaveyB
DaveyB
7 days ago
Reply to  Jon

You could use the Coastguard’s King Airs fitted with the Osprey 30 radar as a complimentary AEW platform. Though, I don’t believe they have the full air to air software patch. It would be an easy fix if needed. As far as I can tell, the Osprey is directly replacing the Sea Spray radar within the under fuselage radome on the King Air. They are keeping it mechanically rotated, but using a single panel Osprey 30 array instead of the traditional pulse doppler Sea Spray. Which means it will still have a 360 degree horizontal view/scan. But have all the… Read more »

Jon
Jon
7 days ago
Reply to  DaveyB

Thank you. That makes a lot of sense. I’ve seen historic examples of L, S and X band AEW radars, so it’s nice to get an explanation of the trade off of lowering frequency apart from the antenna size. I’m curious where lower power radars can take us, given the vulnerability of shorter range AEW like Crowsnest. We know that the MoD expect to replace Crowsnest with a drone, and the Fire Scout C has an Osprey 30 radar and costs about £10m including sensors and datalinks. So I wondered: if you stuck in IFF and maybe some ESM, might… Read more »

DaveyB
DaveyB
7 days ago
Reply to  Jon

You have to remember that Crowsnest was built on the foundations of the Sea King’s ASAC. The ASAC’s primary mission was to detect sea skimming missiles. Hence why it was put on the side of the aircraft and then deployed below it. This gave it an excellent view downwards and to the horizon. It could do look-up searches but only to the port quadrants due to the airframe blocking the field of view. The Navy I believe, felt that its ship based long range radars could do the high level search adequately enough. Sea Skimming missiles are still a very… Read more »

Jon
Jon
7 days ago
Reply to  DaveyB

Cheers. That post will require a couple of rereadings, especially the idea of UWB. Original reports on the unit cost of the Stingray made it seem very expensive, but I think they lumped in the cost of converting a carrier to take them. QE carriers would require cats and traps as well as the automation system. It would be a “considered purchase”. I don’t think we’ll see them unless Vixen trials fail. I’d read in a couple of places that the MQ-8C has three antennas and 360 coverage so it’s a bit of a let down to discover it doesn’t.… Read more »

Alabama Boy
Alabama Boy
9 days ago

As I recall, delivery to the RAF (presumably fully safety certified by the MAA ) of the the first E7 has been promised (for end?) 2023 18 months to go looks like a tight programme if the first radar is just starting factory testing.

Meanwhile, I assume the E3Ds with their RAF trained crews are soon to depart for Chile.

John N
John N
9 days ago
Reply to  Alabama Boy

The radar might be in testing, but it’s not exactly unknown or new territory.

There are currently 14 E-7A in operational service with Australia (6), South Korea (4) and Turkey (4).

johan
johan
8 days ago
Reply to  Alabama Boy

Tried and trusted system, Airframe is waiting the tested radar so program has suffered some delays due to pandemic.

Chilean Crews have been and are being trained in the UK by the RAF, and due to take there 2 Aircraft back soon.

UK currently has No need in its current theatres due to Nato assets

DaveyB
DaveyB
7 days ago
Reply to  johan

If we had a E7 flying over Poland/Romania it would allow us to detect airborne targets a lot further into Ukraine that we could with the Sentry.

Andrew Munro
Andrew Munro
9 days ago

I be.lieve that these NEW aircraft are built on pre used airframes with new outer skins, how many cycles have already flown taking tourists to the med, why is the price not reflected??

John N
John N
9 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Munro

You’d have to reasonably assume the used B737-700 airframes will be refurbished as close to ‘new’ as is possible.

Regardless, the basic airframe won’t be the major cost of an E-7A, it’s all the other costs, all the new hardware and tech, plus the conversion process too.

Andrew Deacon
Andrew Deacon
8 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Munro

I believe the reason the 1st 2 are used airframes is to meet the RAF’s timescale , Boeing simply couldn’t get production started quick enough so offered used airframes, hardly an issue though RAF flying hours will be a fraction of commercial airlines.

The Big Man
The Big Man
8 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Deacon

Also I presume take off and landings will be significantly less than a short haul civilian airliner as mission endurance will be much longer.

johan
johan
8 days ago

OK We know 3 is the basic requirement, USAF is looking @ replacement of the E-3s to E-7s at 3 to 1. there is now a active Modification and upgrade to USAF suitability with 1st test aircraft delivered 2023 and 2nd 2024 for approval. Imagine if during this development a huge step was made due to a large budget from a major customer, which would mean your 2 Brand New Aircraft were obsolete. and if you tacked onto that USAF order you got another 5 aircraft rather than 2. Not all MOD procurements are a shite-show, just due to various… Read more »

John N
John N
8 days ago
Reply to  johan

I think you’ve got your dates all mixed up for the development and delivery of the first test E-7 for the USAF. The first test aircraft is not being delivered in 2023. Funding for the first aircraft comes out of the FY2023 budget, it is then due for delivery during FY2027. The second test aircraft is being funded in FY2024 (delivery hasn’t been announced, but I’d assume you’d be looking at approx 2028). And a production decision isn’t due until FY2025. If those time lines hold up, it’s not unreasonable to assume the first USAF production aircraft won’t enter service… Read more »

Email Ittome
Email Ittome
6 days ago

Maybe because of this:

https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/royal-navy-looking-at-fixed-wing-carrier-based-drone-for-aew/

RAF can use the UAV to supplement the three on order. If they keep 4th and 5th, aircraft, it wouldn’t be cost effective to upgrade them as well. So keep the 3 that’s been ordered, when the AEW UAV comes into service, you can upgrade the three you have. That would probably give RAF & RN, enough aircraft to keep an eye in the sky.

or it’s just another cluster f*ck procurement with MoD.