Peter La Franchi/CANBERRA

The final number of aircraft to be acquired in the Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) Wedgetail airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) project will be set by the Australian Government next month.

A funding recommendation for the project will be included in a major defence funding package being prepared by the Australian Department of Defence. The package will include proposals for the budget for the Australian Army's Project Air 87 armed reconnaissance helicopter requirement.

The package will be handed to Australian defence minister John Moore in the week beginning 17 July and will be considered by the National Security Committee of the Australian Cabinet the next week. Full Cabinet consideration is set for early August, but final timings depend on agreement by the National Security Committee.

Funding approvals for Project Wedgetail have been set by the Cabinet at A$2.7 billion ($1.64 billion). Defence Department estimates indicate that the price tag for the proposed seven-aircraft fleet will be A$3.4 billion. Clearing of the funding issues would open the way for a contract with Boeing to be finalised by early next year.

The project faces releasability hurdles from the US Department of State, however, focused on whether to allow Australia access to a new-generation radar transmit and receive module that can substantially boost the performance of the Northrop Grumman MESA active phased array radar.

The new modules are made of a type of titanium crystal alloy instead of the silicon-carbide-based hardware nominated by Boeing and Northrop Grumman as the core of the Wedgetail system.

One source says the contrast in power ratios between the two materials may be as high as 5:1, allowing a substantial reduction in the overall number of modules an AEW&C aircraft needs to carry.

The increased amplification capability would allow the smaller radar face to provide an increased detection and tracking envelope, understood to include the ability to track aircraft such as the Lockheed Martin F-117 stealth fighter.

Source: Flight International