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Boeing’s Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft to replace NATO’s AWACS by 2031

15th November 2023 - 11:49 GMT | by Damian Kemp in London


Australia was the first operator of E-7A AEW&C and now NATO has agreed to order six. (Photo: Australian DoD)

Australia, South Korea, Turkey, the UK and the US already operate or have ordered Boeing 737 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft.

NATO has selected Boeing’s E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft to replace its aging fleet of Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, joining four other countries which have opted for the aircraft since Australia selected it in 2000.

The organisation gave approval to the purchase of six aircraft earlier this month and the first aircraft has been planned to achieve operational capability in 2031 by which time the E-3As will have been in service for more than four decades.

The deal was described by NATO as ‘one of NATO’s biggest-ever capability purchases’ and with Shephard Defence Insight estimating unit cost at US$392 million (based on the UK purchase), the order could be worth as much as $2.4 billion.

The alliance highlighted the importance of the systems with NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg noting ‘the AWACS have flown in every major NATO operation, including the fight against ISIS as well as on NATO’s eastern flank following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’.

‘The E-7 is expected to have its main base at Geilenkirchen and could operate from several forward locations across Europe,’ Stoltenberg remarked.

‘The Wedgetail will be part of the Alliance’s future surveillance and control project which will field NATO’s next generation of surveillance systems from the mid-2030s,’ he added. 

‘E-7A is of NATO’s biggest-ever capability purchases’NATO

The Royal Australian Air Force systems achieved initial operating capability in November 2012 after the last of six had been delivered in May of the same year and full operational capability was declared in May 2015.

Since then Australia has widely sent the aircraft to a range of exercises and operational exercise, the latter including in support of Iraqi Security Forces counter-terrorism efforts in Iraq in 2019.

Additionally an aircraft was deployed to Germany in October in support of the Ukraine’s war against Russia but will operate outside combat airspace in support of multinational efforts helping protect a vital gateway of international humanitarian and military assistance to Ukraine.

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Damian Kemp


Damian Kemp

Damian Kemp has worked in the defence media for 25 years covering military aircraft, defence …

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