MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA — Australia’s troubled Boeing E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control capability has finally achieved initial operating capability (IOC) after spending years on the government’s Projects of Concern list.
The project is also four years behind the original schedule, due largely to technical problems with its primary sensors, including Northrop Grumman’s multirole electronically MESA electronically scanned array (MESA) radar.
The Royal Australian Air Force has six Wedgetail aircraft and has been using the capability operationally for more than two years. It has participated in several major exercises, including RIMPAC off Hawaii and Red Flag in Alaska earlier this year.
In announcing the IOC milestone on Nov.ember 19th, Jason Clare, minister for defense materiel, Jason Clare praised the work done by defense and industry to achieve the goal.
“This is a very big day for the RAAF. Whenever a new piece of capability enters service it’s always a big and important event, but this is particularly important,” he said. “This is a project that is 20 years in the making and worth more than $3 billion. It’s one of the most advanced pieces of military hardware that the Australian Defence Force has ever operated.”
However, he said it would remain a Project of Concern for the time being.
“We’ve been pretty tough on the specifications put forward for this aieroplane and we’re happy with where it is at the moment,” said Air Marshal Geoff Brown, chief of Air Force. “Now, having established IOC means that the capability is deployable wherever the government wants to deploy it and it can contribute across a wide spectrum of operations.”
Air Marshal Brown said the recent RIMPAC exercise was an example of Wedgetail’s capabilities.
“The Nimitz carrier group thought it was the best airborne early warning control they’d ever had,” he remarked. “So that was a pretty good endorsement of this capability.”
“The declaration of IOC is a major milestone for Wedgetail, though to keep it on the list of Projects of Concern seems illogical. For some time now the performance of the MESA radar has been exceptional, with problems occurring only on the extreme edge of its contracted performance envelope, and it seems fair to say that many of the delays in the project can be classified as legal and contractual rather than ones of technology,” said Kym Bergmann, defense analyst and editor of Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.
“Wedgetail aircraft are now well on the way to becoming critical nodes in a fully networked ADF, with an ability to send and receive vast amounts of data as well making a huge difference to situational awareness through the use of their own sensors.”