The E-7 airborne early warning and control system is a unique blend of high-performance aircraft and mission equipment. It is based on the Boeing 737 Next Generation design, roughly similar to the 737-700ER, an aircraft offering 21st century avionics, navigation equipment, and flight deck.

For many years the standard airborne early warning aircraft of the NATO national air force is the American E-3A Sentry. Developed from the Boeing 707 frame, the E-3 Sentry was officially launched in 1977 and has been operating steadily for over 40 years. E-3 Sentry features a large rotating disc on its back, which is an AN/APY passive phase array radar with a range up to 650 km, it is likened to an extremely reliable air traffic control station. Although still in a good state of operation, but by the frame was too old, NATO had to find alternative candidates. After many rounds of evaluation, they finally chose the E-7.

E-7 Wedgetail review

Michael Gschossmann of the NATO agency that manages the AWACS fleet, told Reuters that NATO could follow the lead of member states Britain and Turkey in purchasing the E-7. Those aircraft, he said, were large enough to add potential new capabilities, such as operating drones for expanded surveillance, in coming years.

The Boeing 737 Airborne Early Warning and Control origin came from the Project Wedgetail, when the Royal Australian Air Force requested a new generation of early warning airborne aircraft and designated E-7A Wedgetail. The Australia placed a contract worth more than $1 billion with Boeing in December 2000 for the development and supply of this programme. Boeing is the prime contractor for the programme and team partners include Northrop Grumman’s Electronics Sensors and Systems, Boeing Australia and BAE Systems Australia.

E-7 Wedgetail
E-7 Wedgetail

The first two aircraft, were delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force on November 26, 2009. These two aircraft entered into service with Royal Australian Air Force in April 2010. A total of six E-7s were ordered for the Royal Australian Air Force, the sixth and final aircraft was delivered in May 2012. On 26 May 2015, Australia’s fleet of six E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning & control aircraft achieved final operational capability. This occurred after the aircraft supported search operations for MH370 and took part in Operation Okra, flying 1,200 hours during more than 100 sorties in the fight against ISIL.

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The E-7 airborne early warning and control system is a unique blend of high-performance aircraft and mission equipment. It is based on the Boeing 737 Next Generation design, roughly similar to the 737-700ER, an aircraft offering 21st century avionics, navigation equipment, and flight deck.

E-7 Wedgetail
E-7 Wedgetail

The aircraft is equipped with two CFM International CFM56-7B27A engines, each rated at 27,300lb, equipped with dual annular combustor for low emissions capability, common core and low pressure turbine. The aircraft has an operational ceiling of 12,500m and a range of more than 6,500km. Because of its high-technology, the aircraft has minimal crew requirements. A base operating crew is two pilots while mission specialists and electronics analysts manage the onboard equipment.

E-7 Wedgetail
E-7 Wedgetail

The aircraft uses the Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array radar. The L-band electronically scanned airborne early warning and surveillance radar is located on a dorsal fin on top of the fuselage, dubbed the “top hat”, and is designed for minimal aerodynamic effect. The radar is capable of simultaneous air and sea search, fighter control and area search, with a maximum range of over 600km. When operating in look-down mode against fighter-sized target, the maximum range is in excess of 370km. When used against maritime targets, the maximum range is over 240km for frigate-sized targets.

E-7 Wedgetail
E-7 Wedgetail

Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array is capable of simultaneously tracking 180 targets and conducting 24 intercepts. In addition, the radar antenna array is also doubled as an ELINT array, with a maximum range of over 850 km at 9,000 metres altitude. The 10.8m long by 3.4m high antenna assembly incorporates 7.3m long by 2.7m high Side-Emitting Electronic Manifold array, with the top hat supporting array providing 120° coverage on port and starboard side, while the top hat array itself provides 60° fore and aft, thus providing a complete 360° coverage. The radar’s beam can be set for a 2° to 8° width, while scan duration can be set from 3 s to 40 s. Radar signal processing equipment and central computer are installed directly below the antenna array.

E-7 Wedgetail
E-7 Wedgetail

Other modifications include ventral fins to counterbalance the radar and countermeasures mounted on the nose, wingtips and tail. In-flight refueling is via a receptacle on top of the forward fuselage. The cabin features eight operator consoles with sufficient space for four more; the Australian fleet will operate ten consoles with space for two more.

E-7 Wedgetail
E-7 Wedgetail

It can be said that the E-7 Wedgetail is a highly advanced aircraft, providing an airborne early warning and control platform that can gather information from a wide variety of sources, analyse it, and distribute it to other assets.The E-7 has also been selected by the Turkish Air Force, the Republic of Korea Air Force, and the United Kingdom. It has also been proposed to Italy and the United Arab Emirates.

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