Patrick Durrant & Nigel Pittaway | Sydney & Paris
The Commonwealth has announced the first major upgrade program for the E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) capability under Air 5077 Phase 5A.
Boeing Defence Australia will lead the $582.5 million upgrade of the Royal Australian Air Force’s fleet of six Boeing-built E-7A Wedgetail aircraft in three releases over six years, with support from Boeing’s Airborne Surveillance Command and Control team in the US and a network of suppliers.
It recognises the growing volume of information that needs to be shared across the battlespace.
“We’re leveraging over 40 years of AEW&C knowledge and investment, and a successful track record of maintaining and upgrading aircraft built based on Boeing’s successful 737 model for the RAAF,” Boeing Defence Australia vice president and managing director Darren Edwards said.
The aircraft and associated support systems will be upgraded with new advanced combat identification sensors, tactical data links, communications hardware and encryption system, and mission computing hardware and software upgrades.
As CASG director general (Aerospace, Materiel, Training and Surveillance) Air Commodore Leon Phillips told ADM in the May issue, Phase 5A is designed to support the high volumes and the increased need to share information needed by the early to mid 2020s.
“It recognises the growing volume of information that needs to be shared across the battlespace. We are ensuring that the Wedgetail is provisioned to increase its data throughput, through the use of systems such as wideband SATCOM and those sorts of gateways, or pipelines, to allow us to more agilely incorporate emerging and evolving requirements, so that we will have the bandwidth to cope with that.”
Edwards said Boeing is 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.
Two aircraft 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. The remaining fleet will receive integrated IP Chat communications upgrades into mission computing, data link upgrades, a new wide-band satellite system and dual display upgrades by 2022.
Phase 6 of Air 5077, currently under consideration, will likely occur around 2020, for incorporation into the platform halfway through the next decade. A factor in Phase 6, according to AIRCDRE Phillips, will be working with the ‘five eyes’ AEW&C community – notably the US and UK – to determine what comes next, especially as the USAF seeks to recapitalise its E-3G Sentry platform as Wedgetail reaches its Life of Type.
Much of the Phase 5A development work is already being carried out at Boeing's Brisbane offices, which house the Joint Battle Management Development Environment (JBMDE), visited recently by ADM, and the Systems Analysis Lab (SAL). Using these facilities here in Australia, Boeing is able to run software loads for the 5A build against, for example, the current baseline of the Vigilare Air Defence System in an approach which drastically reduces risk and creates opportunities for innovation. For more on the JBMDE check out our forthcoming August issue of ADM.