Boeing confident of Australian Wedgetail review

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Boeing is confident that a review of Australia's delayed Wedgetail airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system programme will support the technology for service entry.

The Australian government has commissioned an independent review of the basic workings of the modified 737-700's Northrop Grumman multi-role electronic scanned array (MESA) radar, suggesting concerns about its fundamental soundness.

The eight-year-old Wedgetail acquisition programme is running about three years behind schedule, with delays caused by issues with airframe modifications and developmental problems with the aircraft's MESA radar and electronic warfare system.

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Despite the programme's legacy, Egan Greenstein, Boeing's senior manager for AEW&C, says the company has made significant progress over the past few months. The US Federal Aviation Administration has granted a supplemental type certificate for the Wedgetail platform, and five of Australia's six aircraft have reached flying status, he adds.

"We feel confident in every way that they're going to find that the foundation of the radar is sound, that we're on the right path and there are no weaknesses with the system," says Greenstein.

"If there was something fundamental that was a problem, then, sure, every programme is at risk in any country," Greenstein says. "We're confident that's not going to be the finding and we will proceed with development and fielding."

Canberra has commissioned the Lincoln Laboratories of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to evaluate the MESA radar's architecture .

Unlike the Boeing E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system, the MESA radar does not employ a movable antenna to sweep for targets. Its active array is designed to electronically steer the radar beam over a 360° range nearly instantly.

But the MESA design employs some unique features compared to even active electronically scanned arrays. The transmit/receive modules, for example, are installed in the roof of the aircraft cabin, rather than directly behind the emitter in the "top hat" array.