The government has approved a $582.5 million upgrade of the RAAF’s six E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft, Defence Minister Senator Marise Payne and Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne jointly announced on Wednesday.
Under Project AIR 5077 Phase 5A, over a six-year, three-release program, Boeing Defence Australia will upgrade the RAAF Wedgetails with new advanced combat identification sensors, tactical data links, communications hardware and encryption systems, and mission computing hardware and software upgrades.
“We are on track to deliver the first release of upgrades to all six aircraft in early 2018, with the first aircraft completing flight testing two months ahead of the schedule; a demonstration of the strength and success of the partnership between Boeing and the Commonwealth of Australia on this mission-critical platform,” Darren Edwards, Boeing Defence Australia vice president and managing director, said in a statement.
Two Wedgetails will receive the full suite of release 1 Phase 5A upgrades by early 2019, which include target identification, mission computing upgrades and increased situation awareness through larger visual monitor displays, Boeing says.
The remaining fleet will receive integrated IP chat communications upgrades, data link upgrades, a new wide-band satellite system and dual-display upgrades by mid-2022.
Of the $582.5 million approved for the program, between $200-240 million will “flow to Australian industry”, the ministers said in their statement, creating 165 “highly-skilled” jobs (120 in Brisbane and 45 shared between RAAF Bases Amberley and Williamtown).
The RAAF has continuously deployed a single Wedgetail to the Middle East under Operation Okra since September 2014.
“The Wedgetail has achieved outstanding results completing over 350 missions and flying more than 4,400 hours with our coalition partners on Operation Okra,” noted Senator Payne.