The US Department of the Air Force has awarded Boeing a $1.2 billion contract to begin the E-7A battle management and command-and-control aircraft program.
The department selected the E-7A to replace the aging E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) in April 2022.
The US Air Force currently operates 31 E-3s: 27 with the Air Combat Command and four with the Pacific Air Forces.
The service reportedly plans to retire 15 of them this year and the rest as the E-7A comes on board.
Fleet of 26 E-7As by 2032
The contract paves the way for the production of the E-7A Wedgetail in 2025 and fielding two years later.
The air force anticipates procuring 24 E-7As by 2032, fielding a fleet of 26 aircraft.
“We conducted a thorough analysis of viable industry options to ensure the selected E-3 replacement could meet the specific needs of the US,” Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistic, said.
“Until the E-7A is fielded, we will continue to rely on the E-3 AWACS.”
The aircraft is intended to “provide advanced airborne moving target indication and battle management, command and control capabilities, and advanced multi-role electronically scanned array radar,” enabling a “long-range kill chain” against peer adversaries, the US Air Force wrote.
Advantages Over E-3
Based on the Boeing 737 Next Generation aircraft, the E-7 is smaller and more fuel efficient than the 707-based E-3 Sentry.
The aircraft is flown by the Royal Australian Air Force, the Turkish Air Force, and the Republic of Korean Air Force, and the UK procured two of jets in 2019 for the Royal Air Force.
“The E-7A will enable greater airborne battlespace awareness through its precise, real-time air picture and will be able to control and direct individual aircraft under a wide range of environmental and operational conditions,” Hunter said.
Moreover, the aircraft brings a certain degree of commonality with the US military’s other 737-based platforms, such as the US Navy’s P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol plane and the C-40 Clipper passenger transport operated by the navy, air force, and the US Marine Corps.