The Boeing 737 AEW&C is a twin-engine airborne early warning and control aircraft. It is lighter than the 707-based Boeing E-3 Sentry, and mounts a fixed, active electronically scanned array radar antenna instead of a rotating one. It was designed for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) under "Project Wedgetail" and designated E-7A Wedgetail.
The 737 AEW&C has also been selected by the Turkish Air Force (under "Project Peace Eagle", Turkish: Barış Kartalı), the Republic of Korea Air Force ("Project Peace Eye", Korean: "피스 아이"), and the United Kingdom. It has also been proposed to Italy and the United Arab Emirates.
|Boeing 737 AEW&C |
|A Republic of Korea Air Force Boeing 737 AEW&C|
|Role||Airborne early warning and control (AEW&C)|
|Manufacturer||Boeing Defense, Space & Security (modifications) |
Boeing Commercial Airplanes (original 737 Next Generation design)
|Primary users||Royal Australian Air Force|
Turkish Air Force
Republic of Korea Air Force
Royal Air Force
|Developed from||Boeing 737 Next Generation|
In the 1990s, Australia began forming a need for an airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft. In 1996, Australia issued a request for proposal (RFP) for the aircraft for the RAAF under Project Wedgetail. In 1999, Australia awarded Boeing Integrated Defense Systems a contract to supply four AEW&C aircraft with options for three additional aircraft.
The 737 AEW&C is based on the Boeing 737 Next Generation design, roughly similar to the 737-700ER. The aircraft uses the Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar. The L-band (1 to 2 GHz) electronically scanned AEW and surveillance radar is located on a dorsal fin on top of the fuselage, dubbed the "top hat", and is designed for minimal aerodynamic effect. The radar is capable of simultaneous air and sea search, fighter control and area search, with a maximum range of over 600 km (look-up mode). When operating in look-down mode against fighter-sized target, the maximum range is in excess of 370 km. When used against maritime targets, the maximum range is over 240 km for frigate-sized targets. MESA is capable of simultaneously tracking 180 targets and conducting 24 intercepts. In addition, the radar antenna array is also doubled as an ELINT array, with a maximum range of over 850 km at 9,000 metres (30,000 ft) altitude. The 10.8 m long by 3.4 m high antenna assembly incorporates 7.3 m long by 2.7 m high Side-Emitting Electronic Manifold array, with the top hat supporting array providing 120° coverage on port and starboard side, while the top hat array itself provides 60° fore and aft, thus providing a complete 360° coverage. The radar's beam can be set for a 2° to 8° width, while scan duration can be set from 3 s to 40 s. Radar signal processing equipment and central computer are installed directly below the antenna array.
Other modifications include ventral fins to counterbalance the radar and countermeasures mounted on the nose, wingtips and tail. In-flight refueling is via a receptacle on top of the forward fuselage. The cabin features eight operator consoles with sufficient space for four more; the Australian fleet will operate ten consoles with space for two more (four on port side and six on the starboard side). Northrop Grumman's MESA radar also formed the basis for the same company's Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP) which was developed for the United States Air Force's E-10 MC2A aircraft.
Australia ordered four AEW&C aircraft with options for three additional aircraft. Australia has since taken up two of those options. Aircraft deliveries were to begin in 2006, but significant program delays due to integration problems have occurred. The first two Wedgetail aircraft were assembled and underwent testing in Seattle, Washington. The remaining aircraft are to be assembled by Boeing Australia.
For the Australian aircraft, Boeing and Northrop are teamed with Boeing Australia, and BAE Systems Australia. Boeing Australia will provide training, maintenance and support, BAE provides EWSP systems, Electronic Support Measures (ESM) systems and ground support systems.
On 29 June 2006, the Australian Minister for Defence, Brendan Nelson, announced that Boeing had recently informed the Australian Government that the Wedgetail project had fallen behind schedule. According to Nelson's press release, the company had previously maintained that the project was on schedule. Boeing announced an 18-month delay, due to problems integrating radar and sensor computer systems, and was not expected to deliver the aircraft until early 2009. Additionally, Boeing took $770 million in charges in 2006 for the delayed aircraft. Furthermore, on 20 June 2008 Boeing announced another delay to the Australian program, due primarily to integration of the radar and Electronic Support Measure (ESM) systems.
On 26 November 2009, Boeing delivered the first two 737 AEW&C aircraft to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Initially these aircraft remained Boeing owned and operated, then on 5 May 2010 the RAAF formally accepted these aircraft into service. The RAAF accepted its sixth 737 AEW&C aircraft on 5 June 2012; this is the last of Wedgetail Australia had on order. All Australian aircraft are to be operated by No. 2 Squadron RAAF and will be based at RAAF Base Williamtown with a permanent detachment at RAAF Base Tindal. In November 2012, Wedgetail aircraft achieved Initial Operational Capability.
On 1 April 2014, the first operational sortie occurred with the air control of maritime patrol aircraft taking part in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 off the coast of Western Australia.
On 1 October 2014, a Wedgetail conducted the first Australian sortie over Iraq supporting coalition forces conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). In November 2015, the Australian E-7A performed the longest Australian command and control mission in a war zone during a 17-hour, 6-minute combat mission, requiring two air-to-air refuelings to stay aloft. Australian Wedgetail crews routinely perform 13-hour missions. In early April 2016, Rotation 5 of aircrew and maintenance personnel that had been operating the RAAF Wedgetail in the Middle East achieved a record 100 percent mission success rate in Coalition operations against ISIS. The E-7A successfully conducted all 36 missions, each lasting upwards of 12 hours, amounting to nearly 500 hours of flying for the one aircraft.
On 26 May 2015, Australia's fleet of six E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) aircraft achieved final operational capability (FOC). This occurred after the aircraft supported search operations for MH370 and took part in Operation Okra, flying 1,200 hours during more than 100 sorties in the fight against ISIL.
Four Boeing 737 AEW&C Peace Eagle aircraft, along with ground support systems were ordered by the Turkish Air Force, with an option for two more. Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) is the primary subcontractor for the Peace Eagle parts production, aircraft modification, assembly and tests. Another Turkish subcontractor, Havelsan, is responsible for system analysis and software support besides the delivery of Ground Support Segment which will be located in Konya, Turkey. HAVELSAN of Turkey is also the only foreign company licensed by the U.S. Government to receive critical source codes.
Peace Eagle 1 is modified and tested by the Boeing Integrated Defense Systems in Seattle, Washington, USA. Peace Eagle 2, 3 and 4 are modified and tested at the facilities of TAI in Ankara, Turkey, with the participation of Boeing and a number of Turkish companies. In 2006, the four Peace Eagle aircraft were scheduled to be delivered in 2008. In September 2007, Boeing completed the first test flight of Turkey's AEW&C 737. On 4 June 2008, it was announced that the Turkish Aerospace Industries had completed modifications to Peace Eagle 2, the second 737 AEW&C aircraft at TAI's facilities in Turkey. Completion of checks on flight and mission systems took place in the third quarter of 2008. In 2013, Israel responded to American pressure and delivered the EW equipment for the Turkish aircraft.
The first Peace Eagle aircraft, named Kuzey (meaning North) was formally accepted into Turkish Air Force inventory on 21 February 2014. The remaining three aircraft will be named Güney (South), Doğu (East) and Batı (West).
On 7 November 2006, Boeing won a $1.6 billion contract with South Korea to deliver four aircraft by 2012. Boeing beat the other entrant, IAI Elta's Gulfstream G550-based aircraft, which was eliminated from the competition in August 2006. The first Peace Eye aircraft was delivered to Gimhae Air Base, Busan for acceptance testing on 1 August 2011 with the remaining three aircraft delivered every six months until 2012. The second aircraft was modified into an AEW&C configuration by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), then delivered to Gimhae Air Base on 13 December 2011. After receiving AEW&C modifications by KAI, the third aircraft was delivered on May 17, 2012 to Gimhae Air Base. The fourth aircraft was delivered on 24 October 2012.
In October 2018, the British Government announced that it is in discussion with Boeing and the Royal Australian Air Force about the potential for the E-7 Wedgetail radar aircraft to replace its E-3D fleet. The decision to proceed with the apparent procurement without a competition received some criticism, with the Ministry of Defence accused of displaying favouritism towards Boeing, while Saab voiced its opposition to the "non-competitive" deal as it could offer the Erieye system mounted on Airbus A330 MRTT aircraft. On 22 March 2019, it was announced by Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson that the UK had signed a $1.98 billion deal to purchase five E-7 Wedgetails.
Qatar stated it will purchase three 737 AEW&C aircraft in 2014.
Data from Boeing
Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
|Boeing Advanced Early Warning and Control interior compartments and systems|
|Boeing Advanced Early Warning and Control Cutaway Poster from Flightglobal.com|
|Turkish Air Force 737 AEW&C on flickr.com|
Boeing military aircraft
|Patrol and surveillance|