Defence Secretary confirms Wedgetail interest

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has conirmed that the UK government is in discussion with Boeing regarding the purchase of the E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft to replace the RAF’s ageing Boeing Sentry AEW1 leet.

The conirmation came on October 3, 2018, shortly before the NATO Defence Minister’s Meetings in Brussels. Further discussions were set to be conducted with the US-based manufacturer before any investment decision is made, in accordance with the UK Ministry of Defence’s procurement guidelines, the UK government said.

Defence Secretary Williamson said: “The Wedgetail is the stand out performer in our pursuit of a new battlespace surveillance aircraft and has already proved itself (with the Royal Australian Air Force) in Iraq and Syria. Running air operations from the sky, it could be an excellent asset for the RAF and give us a real edge in this increasingly complex world.”

According to the UK government, local industry could be involved in the programme, including modiication of the 737-700 Increased Gross Weight (IGW) baseline aircraft to Wedgetail coniguration and through life support of the capability in RAF service.

In a statement, the UK government said that, following market analysis and discussions with other manufacturers, the MoD had concluded that Wedgetail represents the best value for money, balanced against the UK’s needs.

Secretary Williamson added: “Our future with Australia will already see us operate the same maritime patrol aircraft [P-8A Poseidon], world-class Type 26 warships and supersonic F-35 [Lightning II] jets. Wedgetail may join that formidable armoury and help us work together to take on the global threats that we both face.”

AIR International has previously reported that RAF crews are already undergoing Wedgetail conversion training with the RAAF at Williamtown, home of Australia’s AEW&C leet (‘RAF crews begin Wedgetail training’ AI October, 2018, p9).

The UK government statement said: “With Australia also a partner in the F-35 programme, the RAF and RAAF will have further opportunities to work together across platforms and with other allies such as the United States to share and collect data and conduct joint training missions, all leading to faster, more efective and more integrated combat forces.”

The news of a potential UK Wedgetail purchase has (not unexpectedly) also been welcomed in Australia.

Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said: “The Wedgetail is a great Australian success story, designed for the RAAF with investment by the Australian government and signiicant contribution by Australian industry, it is a highly advanced aircraft.”

He added: “Australia’s experience in operating the Wedgetail presents a signiicant opportunity to work closely with the United Kingdom through co-operative development and industry collaboration.”

Australia has had a single E-7A on rotation deployed to the Middle East since September 2014, notching up a 98 percent mission success rate.