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RAF announces AEW&C, space, ‘drone’ test squadrons

17 July 2019
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An artist's impression of how the E-7 AEW&C aircraft will appear in UK service. The RAF is acquiring five such aircraft to replace its current E-3D Sentry platforms, and it was announced that 8 Squadron will operate them. Source: Crown Copyright

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) has announced three units to take on new and enhanced capabilities and roles.

Speaking at the Chief of the Air Staff's Air & Space Power Conference (ASPC) in London on 17 July, the head of the RAF announced the continuation of 8 Squadron as the unit to field the Boeing E-7 Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) platform as it replaces the Boeing E-3D Sentry AEW1; the reformation of 23 Squadron as the service's dedicated unit for space operations; and the reformation of 216 Squadron as an experimental unit dedicated to developing 'swarming' technology for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

On the subject of 8 Squadron and its new role as the RAF's E-7 Wedgetail unit, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier noted, "Three years ago, we had no plan to re-capitalise our vital airborne early warning and control fleet. Today, it has been confirmed that we are acquiring the E-7 Wedgetail, with some of our people already training with the Royal Australian Air Force's E-7 Force, ahead of the delivery of our first E-7 aircraft in the early 2020s, to 8 Squadron."

Space is a growing domain for the RAF, with ACM Hillier previously noting that the service should be called the Royal Air and Space Force. "Our Space Cadre continues to grow, including now through the award of Space Wings," ACM Hillier said at the conference. "We will reform 23 Squadron as a space squadron responsible for our day-to-day space command and control - including the flying of satellites and essential co-ordination with allies. [It will be] a numbered squadron, reinforcing that space is part of our core business."

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