The AEW&C mission will be to conduct surveillance, air defence, fleet support and force coordination operations in defence of Australian sovereignty and other national interests. When required, the AEW&C capability will support civil or military operations through law enforcement, regional cooperation and peacekeeping. Based on the Boeing Next-Generation 737-700 commercial airplane, the 737 AEW&C aircraft is designed to provide airborne battle management capability with an advanced multirole L-band (1 to 2 GHz) electronically scanned AEW and surveillance radar and 10 state-of-the-art mission crew consoles that are able to track airborne and maritime targets simultaneously. The mission crew can direct offensive and defensive forces while maintaining continuous surveillance of the operational area.
In 1986, Defence evaluated industry proposals concerning airborne surveillance and early warning systems. In 1989, the Department commenced planning the acquisition and employment of AEW&C aircraft. In 1991, Defence considered the introduction of an AEW&C capability would improve air defence effectiveness. At the time, Defence decided that, if higher levels of funding were provided, it would bring forward proposals that had been deferred or reduced. The AEW&C capability was one such proposal. During the 1990s, Defence refined its reasons for acquiring an AEW&C capability and the associated cost estimates. In May 1994, the then Force Structure Planning and Programming Committee endorsed the project’s Major Capability Submission, put forward by the then Headquarters ADF, and approved the project’s first phase. This phase involved a $A 1.66 million Project Definition Study, which assessed the capability deficiencies in the ADF’s Air Defence System and the most effective materiel alternative needed to address the deficiencies. Air Force completed the study in December 1995. In February 1996, the Force Structure Planning and Programming Committee approved additional phases.
In 1998, Defence awarded Initial Design Activity (IDA) contracts, valued at $A 8.483 million each (December 1997 prices), to the leading tenderers for the project, that is, Boeing, Lockheed Martin Corporation and Raytheon Systems Company. These contracts reduced the project’s risks by funding each company to refine their appreciation of Air Force’s requirements for an AEW&C system; to advance their design specifications; and to agree with Defence on a process for tailoring systems engineering processes.12 These contracts were completed in mid-1999. Records indicate that they were an integral part of an effective contracting strategy. In July 1999, Minister for Defence announced that The Boeing Company (Boeing) was the preferred tenderer for the project. It was envisaged at the time that the first of seven aircraft would be delivered in 2004-05 with a total cost of the project estimated to be over $2 billion.
In December 2000, the system acquisition contract was awarded to Boeing. The Wedgetail project had an approved budget of $A 3.43 billion as at December 2003. It is to provide the Australian Defence Force (ADF) with an AEW&C capability based on four Boeing 737 AEW&C aircraft and associated supplies and logistic support. The first two aircraft were planned to be in service with No 2 Squadron at RAAF Williamtown by late 2006, with four more due for delivery by 2008. The Airborne Surveillance and Control Division of the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) manages the Wedgetail project. By November 2003, Defence had spent $A 1.107 billion on the project.
Since the mid-1990s, Defence has effectively managed the AEW&C requirements phase and the links to the acquisition phase. Even though much of that work pre¬dated Defence's post-1990s acquisition reforms, in essence it satisfies the acquisition phase requirements of the most recent defence capability development process, namely, the capability systems life-cycle management process. Development of the principal component of the system, the Boeing 737 AEW&C Airborne Mission Segment, involves extensive integration of advanced radar, communications and self-protection systems, and major structural and systems modifications to the 737-700 airframe, avionics and engines. The 737 AEW&C aircraft were valued at some five times the cost of the unmodified 737 aircraft. Pushing the edge of technology, as in the case of the Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar, involved an element of risk. Northrop Grumman, in partnership with The Boeing Company, entered into the Wedgetail Program aware of and accepting the associated technology risks. Northrop Grumman was cognizant of the Commonwealth concerns on program performance and risk management. The E-7A Wedgetail provides Australia with one of the most advanced air battlespace management capabilities in the world. The E-7A Wedgetail is based on a Boeing 737-700, with the addition of an advanced Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar and 10 mission crew consoles, to create one of the most advanced pieces of technology for the Australian Defence Force. Based at RAAF Base Williamtown, the six E-7A Wedgetails are capable of communicating with other aircraft and providing air control from the sky. They can cover four million square kilometres during a single 10 hour mission.
The E-7A Wedgetail represents an entirely new capability for the Australian Defence Force, providing an airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) platform that can gather information from a wide variety of sources, analyse it and distribute it to other air and surface assets. The E-7A Wedgetail can control the tactical battle space, providing direction for fighter aircraft, surface combatants and land based elements, as well as supporting aircraft such as tankers and intelligence platforms.
The first flight of the aircraft with the radar and mission systems took place at the Boeing Field in Seattle in May 2004. A major milestone in the Wedgetail project was achieved when the Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar fitted to the Boeing 737 Airborne Early Warning and Control (737 AEW&C) aircraft was successfully tested airborne for the first time. It was the first step in the process to develop the radar subsystem into an operational system for the ADF. The six-hour test flight over western Washington State enabled Boeing to confirm the compatibility of the MESA radar with aircraft systems. The flight culminated three weeks of ground testing in Victorville, California, where Boeing and Northrop Grumman engineers verified the airworthiness of the MESA radar for flight-testing. The test aircraft, previously used for aircraft certification flight-testing, became the first 737 AEW&C aircraft to test a mission system capability in flight. The contractors used the data obtained to refine the design to ensure it met ADF requirements. Performance and flight handling tests were completed in July 2005 and the initial aircraft for modification in Australia arrived in January 2006.
The Wedgetail project attracted wide interest in terms of its systems development and management. In early 2007 Boeing advised of a ‘two-year slip in the program’, and subsequently presented a ‘schedule replan’ to the Commonwealth. In June 2008 Boeing advised Defence of a ‘further schedule delay of 10 months to the delivery of the first fully mission capable aircraft’, and undertook to deliver the first aircraft in January 2010. The Defence Annual Report 2007-08 noted that delivery on this date would represent ‘a total delay of 38 months against the contract baseline.’ To off-set this, Boeing undertook to ‘deliver two aircraft in July 2009 with sufficient capability to enable the ADF to commence training and bed-down its logistics support systems’.
The project was listed as a Project of Concern in January 2008 due to schedule delays and increasing complexity of the technical development of the project. The Projects of Concern process was established by the Government to focus the attention of the highest levels of Government, Defence and Industry on remediating problem projects.
Boeing spent an estimated $US1.7 billion ($1.9bn) of its own funds trying to fix the glitches in Wedgetail over and above its fixed-price $4bn contract with Defense, but by 2009 they were running four years late following a string of developmental problems. In December 2009, after months of bruising negotiations, Boeding and the Australian government agreed on a deal that would see Boeing pay the commonwealth both a cash settlement and provide further technical help at no cost to the troubled Wedgetail project. Boeing failed to meet the delivery timetable and the agreed performance specification for the Wedgetail's complex systems, including its highly advanced phased array radar. Officials were confident Project Wedgetail would achieve at least 95 per cent of its contracted specification, with the radar supplied by Northrop Grumman steadily improving its performance to the point where the air force believed it would deliver a superior capability.
Some of these difficulties stemmed from decisions made early in the project. Wedgetail was intended to supply the ADF with an AEW&C capability with reduced operating costs compared with similar platforms then available. This led to a requirement for a smaller, lighter radar capability for the aircraft, and the adoption of the novel design MESA (Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array) radar, a ‘new L-band radar capable of being carried on the 737. A key aspect of this was that, as a ‘developmental radar’, the MESA package could not be tested until the project had advanced sufficiently to produce a working system.
The first two aircraft were formally accepted into service at RAAF Base Williamtown on 05 May 2010. When the Wedgetail aircraft first came into operation in early 2010, the SPO experienced the usual teething problems associated with managing a new capability. It had to learn all of the idiosyncrasies of its new weapon system and cement its relationship with industry.
The Wedgetail program went from “troubled” to trailblazing by starting with a significant and decisive decision. Instead of a long list of requirements which had to be met in order for the aircraft to be declared operational, a baseline was established after which the plane was put in the hands of the warfighters for training and preparing for operations. The DMO staff felt as if the contractor was just in it for the money while the Boeing staff felt as though they were being used. All members of the Wedgetail team – no matter what rank or level – were encouraged to focus on three key measures - to minimise the Wedgetail aircraft’s downtime and cost while maximising its utility - to differentiate between value adding and non-value adding tasks.
A formal remediation plan was agreed to in 2011, with a number of key objectives identified, including the achievement of Initial Operating Capability ( IOC). The aircraft was taken off the Projects of Concern list in 2012. Following the declaration of IOC, the Chief Executive Officer of the Defence Materiel Organisation has recommended the removal of this project from the Projects of Concern list.
The Boeing Company on 02 May 2012 delivered the sixth and final Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). "I would like to congratulate Boeing in achieving another key milestone in the delivery of the Wedgetail capability. 2 Squadron now has a full complement of aircraft and additional capability that will enable Initial Operational Capability to be declared later this year," said Air Vice-Marshal Chris Deeble, program manager, Collins and Wedgetail, Defence Materiel Organisation. "Delivering the last aircraft into the Wedgetail fleet is the result of hard work, dedication and collaboration by the Boeing-led team and our Australian customer in bringing this powerful air battle management system -- the first of its type -- to the RAAF," said Rick Heerdt, AEW&C vice president for Boeing.
Boeing also delivered all ground segments to support the fleet, which is based at RAAF Base Williamtown in Newcastle, Australia. "Through the Australia-based Wedgetail One Team, Boeing is working together with the RAAF AEW&C System Program Office and No. 42 Wing to provide the best value-for-money engineering, maintenance, training and supply support and the highest levels of aircraft availability to meet the RAAF's operational needs," said Heerdt.
Final Operational Capability for the E-7A Wedgetail platform was announced in May 2015. Final Operational Capability is declared when the entire capability can be deployed on operations. FOC considers the personnel, training, major systems, supplies, facilities and training areas, logistics, support, command and management required to deliver the full capability required. In a military context, Capability is the power to achieve a desired operational effect. Capability is much more than just the aircraft or training personnel to operate equipment. Capability describes the optimum combination of the organisation, its personnel, collective training, major systems, supplies, facilities and training areas, logistics, support, command and management required to deliver a sustained effect, at the right time, in the right way, for an extended period. The Chief of Air Force is responsible for generating air power effects for the security of Australia. The Chief of Air Force is also responsible for reporting and declaring Initial Operational Capability (IOC) and Final Operational Capability (FOC) for Air Force's capabilities.
By early 2016, in the skies above Iraq and Syria, jet fighters and other military aircraft belonging to several nations are actively patrolling and fighting ISIS ground forces. Communication and coordination among aircraft is critical. Boeing’s Royal Australian Air Force E-7A Wedgetail, helped make aircrews safer in those crowded skies, and helped the U.S. and coalition forces take the fight to ISIS.The Wedgetail routinely flies missions lasting more than 12 hours in support of Operation OKRA, part of the multinational fight against the Islamic State. Additionally, the aircraft had flown other sorties above the Middle East and search and rescue missions during the past two years with the Royal Australian Air Force.
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