• The RAAF’s Boeing E-7A Wedgetail capability is celebrating 10 years of service.
Nigel Pittaway
    The RAAF’s Boeing E-7A Wedgetail capability is celebrating 10 years of service. Nigel Pittaway

The RAAF’s Boeing E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) capability celebrated 10 years of operational service on May 5.

On that date ten years ago, the first two E-7A aircraft were handed over to the RAAF at Williamtown, after being operated in an interim capability by Air Force and Boeing crews since the previous November. The Wedgetail is operated By No.2 Squadron, based at Williamtown and supported by industry partners which includes Boeing Defence Australia (BDA) as the platform steward.

Australia received six Wedgetail aircraft under Project Air 5077 Phase 3 and although the first aircraft made its maiden flight in the United States in May 2004, technical problems with the Northrop Grumman MESA radar and other equipment significantly delayed its introduction to service and subsequently resulted in it being placed on the Projects of Concern list.

Happily, since then, and through a great deal of hard work from Defence, CASG and the original equipment manufacturers, solutions were found, and it was ultimately removed from the Projects of Concern list in 2012. Today, the E-7A has matured into what many regard as the ‘AEW&C of choice’ in ongoing operations in the Middle East and continues to be in great demand wherever it is operating.

“In my professional opinion, both the Wedgetail machine and the people who operate and support it are outstripping other AEW&C capabilities in the world at the present time,” said 2 Sqn Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Jason Brown.

In its decade-long career to date, the Wedgetail has supported operations and exercises around the globe, including Spate (ASEAN-Australia Special Summit) in March 2018, Atlas (Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast) in April 2018; and APEC Assist (support to the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum in Papua New Guinea) and Southern Indian Ocean (the search for MH370) in November 2018.

In September 2014, one Wedgetail deployed to the Middle East Area of Operations (MEAO) as part of an Australian Air Task Group for operations in Iraq against Islamic State forces, under Operation Okra. The deployment occurred even before Phase 3 Final Operational Capability (FOC) had been declared (in May 2015) and operations were subsequently expanded to include missions over both Iraq and Syria. A regular rotation to the MEAO under Okra has continued and the Wedgetail remains in great demand in the theatre.

“We have supported many of those operations concurrently and when we’re not on a named operation such as those, we’re usually at an exercise somewhere in Australia or around the world and, if we’re not doing that, we’re working locally with Air Combat Group or with Army or Navy,” WGCDR Brown added.

Boeing Defence Australia continues to support Wedgetail and is today responsible, together with the Commonwealth, for an ongoing series of upgrades to mission computers, systems and displays under Air 5077 Phase 5A.

“There have been plenty of challenges along the way, but the capability Wedgetail is providing to Defence in support of the warfighter is exceptional,” commented BDA director of Commercial Derivative Aircraft, Darryn Fletcher.

“It has been a complex program and the level of development undertaken by defence industry in Australia in collaboration with the customer has been extensive. Wedgetail has been a leading program in developing some cutting-edge sovereign capability in Australia and it has helped to generate a whole new landscape of complex program development, engineering know-how and innovative sustainment approaches.”

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