Boeing is expecting the US Air Force (USAF) to replace its aging fleet of E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system (AWACS) planes with the E-7 Wedgetail aircraft by next year, one of the company’s senior officials revealed recently.
“I believe they’ll be announcing sometime in 2022 that they’re going to move forward on the E-7,” Boeing vice president for defense business development Mike Manazir said at a news conference.
“I think we’re going to be able to capitalize with all of our allies and bring that great capability to the United States Air Force.”
USAF’s Interest in Wedgetail
Manazir’s remarks follow USAF chief General CQ Brown saying in September that the service is “doing internal analysis” to buy the aircraft. “The E-7 is a good platform. It’s flown by the Royal Australian Air Force, and the Royal Air Force is getting ready to procure some as well,” Brown said.
The service’s interest in the new system has grown largely due to the smaller and more fuel-efficient Boeing 737 Next Generation aircraft the system is outfitted on as compared to the 707-based E-3 Sentry, The War Zone argued.
Moreover, the AWACS brings “a certain degree of commonality” with other 737-based US military aircraft such as the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol plane and the C-40 Clipper passenger transport, helping to ease sustainment costs. The fact that the 707 is out of production also adds to the USAF’s urgency to replace the system.
Air Combat Command chief Gen. Mark D. Kelly said at the conference that the E-3s have “served our nation well.” However, “there’s a reason why exactly zero airlines on the globe fly the 707,” he said. “Because it takes miracle workers every day to just get it up in the air.”
Brown explained that the proven E-7 could provide the desired qualities much faster “than if we were to start a new one from scratch,” adding that the service’s “ultimate goal” is to “look at capability that can be defensible,” suggesting a space-based system in the long run.
The USAF currently operates 31 E-3s, 27 with the Air Combat Command and four with the Pacific Air Forces, having received the first system in 1977 and the last in 1984. The system has seen operations such as Desert Storm, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and Odyssey Dawn/Unified Protector.