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UK MOD confirms Wedgetail procurement studies

Photo: The Boeing 737 AEW&C has been earmarked as a likely E-3D successor for the RAF. Its current operators include the Royal Australian Air Force – this E-7A Wedgetail is accompanied by an RAAF F/A-18F as they transit to the battlespace as part of Operation Okra in the Middle East. CPL Brenton Kwaterski/Commonwealth of Australia

 

The United Kingdom Ministry of Defence has moved a step closer to acquiring the Boeing 737 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft to replace the Royal Air Force’s ageing fleet of E-3D Sentry AEW1 platforms.

A tweet from Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson earlier today confirmed that the MOD is in discussions with the manufacturer and the Royal Australian Air Force – which operates the Boeing 737AEW&C under the local designation E-7A Wedgetail.

UK government ministers have yet to make a decision on the procurement of a replacement for the RAF E-3D fleet despite media speculation that a multi-billion pound order would be announced at the Farnborough International Airshow in July.

After reports in May that the MOD was holding talks with industry players to replace the increasingly unreliable RAF E-3D fleet, media speculation was intense in early July that the UK had opted for a single-source selection procurement of the Boeing airborne early warning system. Several Whitehall sources have confirmed to us that senior government ministers have yet to approve a way forward. AFM understands Airbus and other contenders made their displeasure known to the London government back in July and pushed for an open competition.

The UK’s E-3D Sentry fleet has not kept pace with the improvements made to other nation fleets, has suffered from maintenance issues, and now needs replacing. Sentry AEW1 ZH102 wears the markings of No 23 Squadron, based at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, as part of the RAF ISTAR Force. Crown Copyright

Senior sources in the MOD told AFM that an announcement concerning the replacement of the UK’s current E-3D Sentry airborne early warning aircraft could not be expected in the near future. “Discussions are still on-going and no decisions have been made,” said the source.

During Farnborough a number of contenders pitched their products to the UK. Sweden’s Saab offered a variant of Erieye AEW&C  system, with a company spokesman telling AFM: “We would welcome an open and transparent competition”. The Swedish company had previously been linked to a proposal to mount its Erieye systems on an Airbus A330 platform and the spokesman said this was still a possibility, adding: “size of aircraft is not an issue for us”. The spokesman concluded: “We are extremely competitive and we have the latest generation technology.”

One of the new generation of AEW aircraft, the Saab GlobalEye ordered by the United Arab Emirates, typifies these platforms’ adoption of multiple roles. According to the manufacturer: “GlobalEye provides a sophisticated, high-performance system that can conduct simultaneous long-range detection, tracking and surveillance in the air, land and maritime domains, all from a single platform.” Stefan Kalm/Saab

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and its radar subsidiary Elta also told AFM they were offering the UK a variant of their Conformal Airborne Early Warning aircraft, based on the Gulfstream G550 platform, which is in Israeli Air Force service as the Eitam. An IAI spokesman told us: “Our off-the-shelf solution will meet the UK’s requirement but save the UK taxpayer a lot of money. We have two times cost performance ratio [over other products]. You want best value for your money.”

A Boeing spokesman declined to comment when approached at the Farnborough Airshow.

A UK MOD spokesperson told AFM: “Any decision on the way forward for the Sentry capability will be taken in the best interests of national security in the face of intensifying threats, and only after full consideration. We tender contracts competitively wherever appropriate. It is too early to comment further at this time.” Tim Ripley

Look out for a full report on the future of RAF airborne early warning in the November issue of AFM.

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