UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


E-7 Boeing 737 AEW

The 737 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system is a unique blend of high-performance aircraft and mission equipment. The platform features the Boeing Next-Generation 737-700, an aircraft offering 21st century avionics, navigation equipment, and flight deck. It has an operational ceiling of 41,000 feet and a range of more than 3,000 nmi. Because of its high-technology, the aircraft has minimal crew requirements.

The Boeing 737 AEW&C System is based on the commercial 737-700 airliner, which provides modern avionics and glass cockpit, minimal crew requirements and commonality with commercial airline fleets for flexibility and support. It is fitted with a Northrop Grumman ESSD (formerly Westinghouse) Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar. This Northrop Grumman's L-band Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar is mounted in a dorsal arrangement atop the B737 rear fuselage. This is combined with a Boeing designed Open Systems Architecture (OSA) mission system with six common console stations for the mission crew. The OSA mission system is Standards based and uses 80% Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) software.

A Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar is the critical sensor aboard the 737 AEW&C. The MESA radar is the latest generation airborne surveillance radar system for mid-cost AEW&C. The electronically scanned array features three apertures sharing "L" band frequency transmit and receive modules to attain 360 degrees of coverage. The "L" band frequency is an optimum blend of range, detection capability, size and weight. The steerable beam, L-band electronically scanned array is designed to provide optimal performance in range, tracking, accuracy and growth. The radar is able to track air and sea targets simultaneously and can help the operator maintain control of high-performance aircraft while continuously scanning the operational area. The 'top hat' provides a practical solution for fore and aft coverage while maintaining the low drag profile of the dorsal array system. This allows the system to be installed on the mid-size 737-700 platform without significant impact on aircraft performance.

Another innovation is the integrated Identification Friend or Foe (IFF), sharing the primary radar arrays to further reduce weight, improve reliability and simplify target correlation. In addition, the 737 AEW&C has an advanced open system architecture (OSA) with a standards-based design for cost-effective commonality and maximum flexibility. The radar provides significant operational capability by allowing the system to be dynamically tailored to match mission requirements. If the operator needs a long-range view of a specific sector, system modes may be selected to search that sector at more than double the nominal uniform surveillance range. Additionally, variable track update rates and dedicated tracking assist the operator in maintaining control of high-performance aircraft while continuously scanning the operational area.

The 737 is one of the most popular and reliable jet aircraft in the world. Airlines and operators have ordered more than 4,800 737s, with more than 3,800 having been delivered. With so many in service, there is a world-wide base of suppliers, parts and support equipment.

The Boeing team was awarded an Initial Design Activity contract by the Australian Defence Force in December 1997. As part of that contract, the team worked on a design solution to meet the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) requirements for an AEW&C system. In July 1999, the Boeing team was selected as the preferred tenderer for Project Wedgetail. A development and acquisition contract was signed in December 2000. The contract is worth more than $2 billion Australian (more than $1 billion U.S.). It provides for four 737 AEW&C systems with options for up to three additional systems. The contract also provides for ground-based support segments for flight and mission crew training, a mission support segment and other system support facilities and spare parts. A contract was signed in December 2000, with delivery of the first two aircraft expected in 2006 Boeing teamed with Northrop Grumman (ESSD), Boeing Australia and British Aerospace Australia for the Boeing 737 AEW&C System. On 27 February 2001 Northrop Grumman Corporation's Electronic Sensors and Systems Sector (ES3) was awarded a contract by The Boeing Company for more than $300 million (U.S.) to provide its MESA radar for Project Wedgetail.

In September 2001 Boeing successfully completed the preliminary design review (PDR) of the radar and identification friend or foe (IFF) systems for Australia's Project Wedgetail - the first major design milestone in the development of this state-of-the-art 737 airborne early warning & control system. Work on the PDR was finished on schedule and within budget. The PDR included a general review of the radar/IFF design against the Wedgetail radar subsystem requirements established by the Commonwealth of Australia. The next step in the process was detailed design definition of components, parts and software to create the radar sub-system. These include structural drawings, circuit diagrams, electronics board and box layouts, and manufacturing and support plans.

The first Australian Wedgetail aircraft rolled out 31 October 2002 during a ceremony at the Boeing plant in Renton, Wash. The 737-700 will be transformed into a platform for an Airborne Early Warning and Control System. Modifications to the aircraft began in 2003.

In 2004 Australia exercised options to buy two additional 737-700 aircraft boosting the number in its fleet to six. Delivery of the first two aircraft was scheduled for 2006. The rest were to be delivered by 2008. On 20 May 2004 Boeing conducted the successful first flight of the 737 airborne early warning and control aircraft for Australia's Project Wedgetail. The plane rolled down the runway at Boeing Field in Seattle and took to the skies at 10:15 a.m. PDT, heading west to the Pacific Ocean. It then flew back and forth over Washington State's Olympic Peninsula before landing at Boeing Field. During the two-hour flight Boeing pilot Charles Gebhardt and co-pilot Ray Craig conducted a series of tests on the airplane's systems and structures. The pilots were in constant contact with a group of test engineers monitoring the flight at Boeing Field. After touchdown, the aircraft was greeted by Air Vice Marshall Norm Gray, head of Australia's Airborne Surveillance and Control division and Allen Ashby, vice president and general manager of Boeing Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems.

In July 2005 Boeing successfully completed the aircraft performance and flight handling test program with the first 737 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft for Australia's Project Wedgetail. This milestone validated the aircraft's digital design, and wind tunnel and simulator analyses. It is a major step forward in providing this powerful, new capability to Australia. The aircraft exceeded all specification requirements for altitude, speed and endurance. It logged more than 245 flights and more than 500 flight hours. Takeoff performance, flight handling and simulated air to air refueling testing were conducted at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Engine nacelle and engine component cooling were tested in Mesa, Ariz. Additional tests included icing and crosswinds. Flight testing of the airborne early warning and control mission system, including the MESA radar, was scheduled for later in 2005.

Turkey issued a request for proposals for four AEW&C aircraft in 1998. Both Boeing and Raytheon initially offered to provide four aircraft for $1.5 billion, but later agreed to provide six aircraft for a similar price when Turkey balked at the cost. Raytheon offered an Elta Phalcon 360 radar integrated on an Airbus A310. In November 2000, the Republic of Turkey selected a Boeing-led team to begin negotiations on developing a new AEW&C system for for $1.5 billion. The Peace Eagle system includes six 737 AEW&C aircraft, an option for one more aircraft, plus ground support segments for mission crew training, mission support and system modification support. Negotiations on a contract were expected to begin in early 2001.

In June 2002 Boeing won a $1 billion order from Turkey's military for four radar-equipped 737 aircraft. The US State Department and Congress had to approve the sale, which was expected to take several months. Deliveries would beging in in 2006, following further design work with partners including Northrop Grumman Corp. and Turkish Aerospace Industries. The order was Boeing's second for the modified 737 early- warning aircraft, after Australia ordered four in 2000.

In February 2004 it was announced that ROK will purchase four airborne surveillance aircraft by 2011 in order to strengthen and significantly improve its air defense system. By 2005 the ROK Air Forces was deciding between two proposals for this E-X program. The Israeli proposal by Israel Aircraft Industries and Elta Systems, based on the American-made G-550 Gulfstream Aerospace aircraft with the Israeli Phalcon radar, was for four planes at a cost of 1.2 billion dollars. The American proposal, based on Boeing's E-737 AWACS, had an estimated cost of $1.5 billion to over $2 billion.

At the Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition and Conference, on 27 March 2014 Qatar announced $23 billion in new arms orders, including three Boeing 737 AEW&C aircraft. Qatar would be the fourth customer for the AEW&C platform. The oil and gas rich Arab Gulf state metamorphosed into a disproportionately famous power because of the Doha-based broadcaster Al-Jazeera, launched in November 1996. Qatar, a nation of barely 500,000 the size of the US state of Maine, also wants 24 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and three Boeing 737 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft from the United States. Qatar is the fourth customer for this system, after Australia, Korea and Turkey. The country also announced plans to enhance its surveillance capabilities through the development of an optionally piloted air vehicle with partner Thales. Tankers will give the QEAFs E-737s extra-long surveillance times, and extended reach.

Brigadier General Michael Gschossmann, the NATO's general manager for the agency in charge of the AWACS surveillance aircraft fleet, said 16 June 2019 he expected to finalize by December a $750 million contract with US arms maker Boeing to extend the life of the E-3 AWACS aircraft through 2035. Boeing will also receive $250 million more earmarked for design, spare parts and testing. The NATO official, however, said it was critical to decide quickly how to replace the 1980-era AWACS airplanes since the alliance would need to take costly steps to keep them in the air or up-to-date. "We have to get moving on this. We have to ensure that the studies move along quickly. We need a reality check," he said.

One of the possible successors for AWACS is the Boeing E-7 spy plane, which is already owned by some NATO members such as Britain and Turkey. Gschossmann stated that the replacement must have "growth potential", meaning it would be able to be modified and upgraded in the future just as the E-7 has such capabilities. "We have to ensure that we acquire a system that has growth potential, but that also for financial and time reasons is based on existing capabilities," he said.

Gschossmann said that France and the United States also operated AWACS aircraft and could potentially buy E-7 planes in coming years, which could lower costs by generating larger order quantities. "Why don't we bet on the proven technology that we already have in the E-7 and provide NATO with a certain number of those aircraft? That would give us a basic capability that could be expanded in the future," he added.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 01-07-2021 17:55:21 ZULU