Boeing grows RAF Wedgetail industry team

Leonardo, STS Aviation Services and Thales have been selected by Boeing to join a UK-based industry team that will deliver five E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft to the Royal Air Force (RAF).

Boeing – the prime contractor in the UK’s Wedgetail procurement programme – announced the expansion of the industry team on May 20. The platform, which will be designated Wedgetail AEW1 in RAF service, will operate from RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire, from 2023. It will replace the air arm’s current Boeing E-3D Sentry AEW1 aircraft, which will be retired in December 2022.

The three companies will play a significant role in delivering the new AEW&C system to the RAF. STS Aviation Services will perform the conversion work and a joint Leonardo-Thales team will deliver the aircraft’s defensive aids system (DAS).

STS Aviation Services will convert five Boeing 737 Next Generation (NG) commercial airliners into what Boeing calls a “modern airborne battle management fleet”. The contract will provide more than 100 highly skilled jobs at both companies. Conversion work will take place at STS’ facility in Birmingham Airport, West Midlands, in a hangar which was formerly operated by Monarch Aircraft Engineering.

Wedgetail AEW1 [RAF]
Concept art of the UK’s future Wedgetail AEW1 aircraft in flight over Lincoln, Lincolnshire. RAF

Mick Adams, senior vice president and CEO of STS Aviation Services, said: “Being awarding this contract is not only great news for [the company] and Boeing, it’s also great news for the Birmingham region, and a much-needed jolt for UK aviation… We have a long and favourable history working with Boeing, and we’re excited that this work will be completed at our new state-of-the-art aircraft maintenance facility in Birmingham.”

According to Boeing, the first two (ex-commercial) 737NGs have been stripped out and will arrive in the UK for conversion to Wedgetail-standard later this year. Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group (ADG) was due to perform the conversion work but the contract has switched to STS Aviation Services for unspecified reasons.

Leonardo and Thales UK will deliver a domestically produced DAS for the RAF’s future AEW&C aircraft fleet. Leonardo is leading the contracting effort from its site in Luton, Bedfordshire, with Thales acting as a subcontractor. The RAF’s Wedgetail will employ Leonardo’s Modular Advanced Platform Protection System (MAPPS) architecture and controller as the basis of its DAS kit. The MAPPS platform is the latest iteration of the company’s Electronic Warfare Suite Controller (EWSC), which is used on the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) Wedgetail fleet.

Thales UK will provide its Elix-IR threat-warning system and Vicon XF intelligent countermeasures dispensing system under a subcontract from Leonardo. The former will be produced at Thales’ site in Reading, Berkshire, and work on the latter will take place at its facilities in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, and Glasgow, Scotland.

The company boasts that the Elix-IR is “the world’s most advanced multifunction passive threat-warning system (TWS), offering the core functionalities of a simultaneous missile approach warner (MAW) and hostile fire indication (HFI) solution to counter existing and future missile threats”.