UK to base Wedgetail fleet at RAF Lossiemouth

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) revealed on December 18 that the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) future Boeing E-7A Wedgetail AEW1 fleet will be based at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland.

Five examples of the airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft have been ordered to replace the service’s Boeing E-3D Sentry AEW1 fleet, which is currently operated by No 8 Squadron at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire. With deliveries beginning in 2023, the Wedgetail will be based at RAF Lossiemouth alongside the RAF’s new fleet of nine Boeing P-8A Poseidon MRA1 multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft.

Wedgetail AEW1 [MoD Crown Copyright/Royal Air Force]
It was announced on December 18, 2020, that the Royal Air Force's (RAF's) future Boeing E-7A Wedgetail AEW1 fleet will be based at RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland. MoD Crown Copyright/Royal Air Force

The decision to co-locate both platforms at the Scottish base is due to the fact that both the Wedgetail and Poseidon are based on the Boeing 737 narrow-body, twin-engine commercial airliner. “Operating both fleets of Boeing 737-type aircraft from the same location will further harness RAF Lossiemouth’s strategic location and take advantage of the new GBP£100m state-of-the-art facility and recent GBP£75m runway upgrade,” the MoD said. It adds that the move is also expected to support “hundreds of jobs and provide a boost to the local economy.”

Basing the Wedgetail at RAF Lossiemouth will also mark the return of No 8 Squadron to Moray, after a 30 year absence. The unit flew the Avro Shackleton AEW2 from the Scottish base from 1973 until 1991, when it relocated to RAF Waddington and was re-equipped with the Sentry AEW1 platform.

UK Minister of State for Defence, Baroness Annabel Goldie, said: “Scotland’s proximity to the waters and skies of the North Atlantic is of crucial importance to the UK’s and NATO’s security – this is why important military bases such as [Her Majesty’s Naval Base (HMNB)] Clyde and RAF Lossiemouth are located here.

“[The MoD’s] latest decision to base the E-7 Wedgetail at RAF Lossiemouth demonstrates our commitment to investing in Scotland and will complement and expand upon the success of [the] Typhoon fast-jet and submarine-hunting Poseidon operations,” she added.

RAF Lossiemouth [MoD Crown Copyright]
By basing both the Boeing 737-based E-7A Wedgetail AEW1 and the P-8A Poseidon MRA1 aircraft at RAF Lossiemouth, the air force will be able to take further advantage of the GBP£100m state-of-the-art support facility that has already been established at the Scottish base. MoD Crown Copyright/Royal Air Force

RAF Lossiemouth is also home to half of the UK’s operational Eurofighter Typhoon fleet. The multi-role fighter is responsible for conducting quick reaction alert (QRA) missions from the base to protect the UK’s sovereign airspace, along with performing air policing duties on behalf of NATO.

The MoD adds that Wedgetail will deliver “a step change in capability from the current E-3D Sentry” platform. The new AEW&C platform is capable of simultaneously tracking multiple and maritime targets in its area of operations. The information it gathers can be used to enhance the situational awareness of other assets in the region, like fighter aircraft and warships.

Until now, it had been assumed that No 8 Squadron and the RAF’s Wedgetail AEW1 fleet would be operated from RAF Waddington. This is because previous images of the platform released by the MoD have shown the aircraft flying over Lincoln Cathedral, which is not far from RAF Waddington.

Alongside the Sentry, the Lincolnshire base hosts a number of the RAF’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) fleets, comprising the Beechcraft Shadow R1, Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint and Raytheon Sentinel R1. The base will also soon be home to the RAF’s world-renowned aerobatic team, the Red Arrows, and the UK’s General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI) MQ-9B Protector RG1 remotely-piloted aircraft system (RPAS) fleet.