Australia’s Troubled E-7A “Wedgetail” AWACS Program
The initial contract wasn’t signed until December 2000, and the price quoted at the time was A$ 3 billion. DoD releases issued after Australia exercised 2 of its options for additional planes have used a figure of A$ 3.45 billion. ANAO’s 2012-13 report places the figure at A$ 3.83 billion, including factors like monetary inflation and currency exchange.
The real turbulence began in 2006, when a project that was held up as a model of acquisition reform, and reported as on time and on budget, suddenly “found” itself way behind schedule and over cost. This has led to widespread unhappiness in Australia. Bottom line? Australia’s E-7As are about 5 years behind schedule. Instead of happening in 2007, Initial Operational Capability actually began in November 2012. Instead of happening in December 2008, Final Operational Capability isn’t expected until October 2013.
July 29/13: Boeing Defence Australia Australian industry receives A$ 140 million to take on the E-7A Wedgetail support contract from Boeing USA (q.v. Jan 19/10). They’ll provide engineering, maintenance, spare parts and training support to Number 2 Squadron at RAAF Williamtown NSW, until the contract ends in 2015. Australian DMO | Australian DoD.
Dec 19/12: ANAO Report. The ANAO releases their 2010-2011 Major Projects Report. With respect to the E-7 program, ANAO says that successive software builds delivered to Australia’s fleet have improved integrated system performance. Unfortunately, other issues remain:
“….a radar remediation program was established. This program includes a radar collaborative research and development program. A contract for the collaborative program was signed on 21 June 2010. The program has been very successful and consequently the period of performance has been extended to the end of 2012. Radar performance in the clear has been recovered to very close to specification and substantial improvement in performance in clutter is anticipated by mid 2013. Further technical challenges in the development of the Communications, ESM, Electronic Warfare Self Protection (EWSP) and ground support systems are still being encountered…”
Nov 19/12: IOC. Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare announces that the Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) Wedgetail aircraft has achieved Initial Operational Capability (IOC). For Australia, IOC is the minimum standard required to operate the fleet, including the readiness of a platform’s support infrastructure.
Australia’s DoD has no word on when to expect Full Operational Capability. Since 2011, the E-7A fleet has participated in Exercise Bersama Lima in Malaysia, Exercise Cope North Guam, Exercise Bersama Shield, the Red Flag multinational meet in Alaska, and most recently Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2012. Australia DoD.
The island continent of Australia faces a number of unique security challenges that stem from its geography. The continent may be separated from its neighbors by large expanses of ocean, but it also resides within a potential arc of instability, and has a number of important offshore resource sites to protect. Full awareness of what is going on around them, and the ability to push that awareness well offshore, are critical security requirements.
“Project Wedgetail” had 3 finalists, and the winner was a new variant of Boeing’s 737-700, fitted with an MESA (multirole electronically scanned array) radar from Northrop Grumman. That radar exchanges the traditional AWACS rotating dome for the E-7A’s “top hat” stationary antenna. That design, and the project as a whole, have run into severe turbulence, creating problems for Boeing earnings, the ADF, and other export orders for the type. DID’s FOCUS articles offer in-depth, updated looks at significant military programs of record. This one covers contracts, events, and key milestones within Australia’s E-7A program, from inception to the current day.
Project Wedgetail: Program and Participants
Program & Industrial Team
Contracts & Key Events
2011 – 2013
2009 – 2010
2007 – 2008
2005 – 2006
2003 – 2004
2001 – 2002
2000 and Earlier
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