USAF Chief of Staff Gen Charles Q Brown Jr, RAF Chief of the Air Staff ACM Sir Richard Knighton, and his Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) counterpart, AM Robert Chapman, have signed a “joint vision statement” committing the three air arms to cooperate in E-7A Wedgetail “capability development, evaluation and testing, interoperability, sustainment, operations, training and safety.”
The document was signed during a ceremony held at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, UK, on July 14. While the RAAF already has six E-7As in service and the RAF aims to achieve Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for its three Wedgetail AEW1s in 2024, the USAF only awarded Boeing a $1.2bn contract to begin work on two prototype E-7s in February, this year, and plans to buy a total of 26 E-7s by 2032. However, the USAF is hoping to accelerate the acquisition programme as its E-3 Sentry fleet becomes progressively more difficult and expensive to support and maintain.
The plan is for a delivery rate of four Wedgetails per year from 2027 – a pace set by the production rates of both the Boeing 737 and Northrop Grumman’s Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar system. Casey Madsen, Boeing’s manager of the E-7 programme for the USAF, has said that studies and discussions are underway to increase the delivery rate to six airframes per year.
Trinational cooperation could help to accelerate the USAF’s acquisition and fielding of the Wedgetail. The USAF has deliberately kept its requirements similar to those of the RAF in an effort to keep the schedules as streamlined as possible, with any upgrades coming later. There have also been suggestions that the US and UK could share E-7 testing data and perhaps even undertake joint test, evaluation and training. There could even be a possibility that the STS Aviation facility at Birmingham Airport in the West Midlands, UK – where the RAF’s E-7As are currently taking shape – could provide additional capacity for USAF Wedgetail production.
Gen Brown Jr outlined that 50-60 USAF personnel will travel to Australia to train on the E-7A this summer, adding “when we do get our aircraft, we’ll have trained operators and maintainers to help accelerate bringing the E-7 into our inventory.”