The United Kingdom is considering buying Boeing E-7 Wedgetail airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft to replace the RAF’s seven ageing E-3D Sentry aircraft.
Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said the UK had confirmed it was in discussion with Boeing and the RAAF about acquiring Wedgetail, six of which are in service with Williamtown-based 2 Squadron.
Minister Pyne and Defence Industry Minister Steve Ciobo said this would further deepen Australia’s relationship with the UK and was an endorsement of a crucial part of Australia’s air combat capability.
“The Wedgetail is a great Australian success story, designed for the Royal Australian Air Force with investment by the Australian Government and significant contribution by Australian industry, it is a highly advanced world-best aircraft,” Pyne said.
“Widely recognised as the most advanced aircraft of its type in the Western world, the Wedgetail provides state-of-the-art airborne surveillance, communications and battle management systems.”
Pyne said RAAF Wedgetail aircraft, based on the widely-used Boeing 737, had been deployed in the Middle East since October 2014 in support of operations against ISIL, with the aircraft achieving a 98 per cent mission success rate.
He said Australia’s experience in operating the Wedgetail presented a significant opportunity to work closely with the UK through cooperative development and industry collaboration.
More than 200 Australian companies had contributed to Wedgetail acquisition and sustainment and stood to benefit from what could become one of Australia’s most significant defence exports.
“A UK procurement will add to the global fleet of Wedgetails, already including Australia, Turkey and South Korea, which can be supported and sustained by Australian industry and create hundreds of Australian jobs,” Minister Ciobo said.
The announcement on Wednesday follows the third Australia-United Kingdom Defence Industry Dialogue (AUKDID) held in London in July where Minister Pyne pitched Wedgetail to his UK counterparts.
“During the dialogue I took the opportunity to further promote Australia’s world-class Wedgetail capability to the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for Defence and the then Minister for Defence Procurement,” he said.
“Deeper engagement between both countries’ defence industries, including through increased exports and industry partnerships, will further strengthen our bilateral relationship with the United Kingdom.”
The UK decided to buy the E-3D Sentry, based on the familiar Boeing 707 airframe, in 1987 after giving up on its plans to develop its AEW&C capability based on the British Aerospace Nimrod.
UK Sentries primarily differ from US aircraft in that they are fitted with more efficient CFM56 engines.
The UK’s 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review indicated the RAF’s Sentries would remain in service until 2035.
Australia was the lead customer for E-7 and the acquisition wasn’t without major technical challenges, especially with the new and very advanced Northrop Grumman multi-role active electronically scanned array (MESA) radar.
But Wedgetail is now regarded as probably the best AEW&C aircraft in the world.