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USAF unlikely to speed E-7 delivery

Artist's impression of the Boeing E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft in the UK Royal Air Force colours. The US is leveraging the work performed for the UK's forthcoming E-7s. (Boeing)

Speeding up the introduction into service of the Boeing E-7is one of the US Air Force's (USAF's) major acquisition priorities, but the programme cannot move much faster, said Steven Wert, programme executive officer for digital systems at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.

“Boeing has to build a green aircraft, and they have to convert it to [a] configuration that can support the radar, and then the mission systems. Then you have to test and certify airworthiness… There's only so fast you can [certify] the first one.”

“We're looking at things like advanced procurement funding. We buy long-lead so we're not waiting to build a subsequent fleet,” said Wert.

The Northrop Grumman-built Multirole Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar is also a bottleneck. “Right now I think Northrop Grumman can produce two a year, but they need to expand capacity to get to four,” said Wert. “We've had discussions [with] Northrop Grumman. They're doubling their capacity … and they can expand even further.” Foreign Military Sales (FMS) of the aircraft could bolster the rate, he added.

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