Australia To Upgrade Wedgetail AEW&C Aircraft

 - July 11, 2017, 3:18 AM
The RAAF’s six Wedgetails will be upgraded at a cost of nearly $450 million. (Photo: Mike Yeo)

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) will upgrade its fleet of six E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft, to include new advanced combat identification sensors; tactical datalinks; communications hardware and encryption system; and mission computing hardware and software upgrades. The fleet was delivered by Boeing from 2009 to 2012, following a troubled development. Australian defense minister Marise Payne announced the upgrade the day before she presided over delivery of the last two of 12 Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft to the RAAF.

Boeing Defence Australia will lead the Wedgetail upgrade under AIR 5077 Phase 5A with support from Boeing’s Airborne Surveillance Command and Control team in the U.S. and a network of suppliers. The program is structured into three separate releases and is expected to cost (U.S.)$443.2 million.

Release 1 of the upgrade will include target identification, mission computing upgrades and increased situational awareness through larger visual monitor displays, and it will be applied to two aircraft by early 2019. The fleet will subsequently receive integrated IP Chat communications upgrades into mission computing, datalink upgrades, a new wide-band satellite system and dual display upgrades by mid-2022.

The last two Australian EA-18Gs touched down at RAAF base Amberley on July 7. Payne said that “the full Growler fleet represents a significant leap forward in joint electronic warfare capability.” RAAF chief Air Marshal Leo Davies added that the aircraft had already conducted weapon firings and integration flights with the RAAF’s F/A-18F Super Hornets and U.S. Navy EA-18G Growlers as part of operational test and evaluation in the U.S.

Australia is the only export operator of the Growler.

Last March, Australia announced that it will participate in the development of the Raytheon AN/ALQ-249 Next Generation Jammer to equip its Growlers, investing (U.S.)$192.2 million in the program under Project AIR 5349 Phase 6 to replace its refurbished AN/ALQ-99 jammers.

Meanwhile, the upgrade to the RAAF’s fleet of 33 BAE Systems Hawk 127 lead-in fighter trainers has achieved initial operating capability. Under Project AIR 5438, the Lead-In Fighter Capability Assurance Program is being carried out by BAE Systems engineering teams in Australia and the UK. It includes such new capabilities as simulated radar, electronic warfare,= and digital mapping.

Twelve aircraft have already been upgraded. The program is expected to be completed in 2019 and will also introduce three full mission simulators provided by CAE. The acting commander of the RAAF’s Air Combat Group, Group Captain Robert Denney, said that the upgrade will “ensure that the Lead-In Fighter Training System is capable of producing sufficient, suitably trained aircrew to operate F/A-18F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler and F-35A Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.”