The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed plans to acquire five Boeing 737-based E-7 airborne early warning and control system aircraft from Boeing for the British Royal Air Force (RAF). Announced on 22 March and worth £1.5 billion ($1.98 billion), the contract will lead to the adapted narrowbody airliners. They will replace the Royal Air Force’s (RAF) current Boeing 707-based E-3D Sentry fleet. The UK’s plan to proceed with a non-competitive selection of the E-7 emerged last year, with the MoD having been keen to acquire an operationally-proven system to replace its current assets. Canberra’s six-strong fleet of the type achieved final operational capability status in May 2015, and has been used in support of coalition activities in the Middle East.
According to the MoD, the project will sustain more than 200 highly skilled jobs at Marshall’s Cambridge airport site, while “there will also be opportunities for British suppliers to be involved in future training and support arrangements”. Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group will be responsible for the modification of all five aircraft at its Cambridge facility in the UK. Each E-7 will be flown with a crew of two pilots and 10 mission operators, according to the MoD. It describes the type as having an operating ceiling of 41,000ft, and a range of up to 3,500nm (6,470km). Other technological features included in the aircraft are multiple high-frequemcy radios, modern electronic support measures (ESM) equipment and electronic warfare self-protection (EWSP). The type also will feature commonality with the RAF’s future fleet of nine 737NG-based P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, the first of which is scheduled for delivery later this year
“The E-7 provides a technological edge in an increasingly complex battlespace, allowing our ships and aircraft to track and target adversaries more effectively than ever,” says defence secretary Gavin Williamson. UK chief of the air staff air chief marshal Sir Stephen Hillier said: “This world-class capability, already proven with our Royal Australian Air Force partners, will significantly enhance our ability to deliver decisive airborne command and control and builds on the reputation of our E3D Sentry Force.Along with defence’s investment in other cutting-edge aircraft, E-7 will form a core element of the next-generation airforce, able to overcome both current and future complex threats.”
The E-7 system – already operated by the Royal Australian Air Force, plus South Korea and Turkey – is based on the 737NG airframe, and powered by CFM International CFM56 engines. Its mission equipment includes a Mesa active electronically scanned array produced by Northrop Grumman, plus onboard operator stations. Named “Wedgetail” by the Australian Department for Defence, the E-7 aircraft can fly for long periods of time and manage the battlespace from the sky. The E-7 is a proven aircraft that is currently in-service with the Royal Australian Air Force and has been used on operations in the battle against Daesh in Iraq and Syria. Since last year, British aircrews have been undergoing training on the E-7 aircraft in Australia, reported DefenseNews.