Boeing has proved adept at taking its commercial aircraft and developing military platforms - including tankers and airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) systems, the latter starting in the early 1970s with the 707-based E-3 Sentry for the US Air Force, followed by the E-767 for Japan and now the 737 AEW&C for Australia and Turkey.

The 737 AEW&C, equipped with Northrop Grumman's MESA electronically scanned array, builds on a partnership established with the former Westinghouse to integrate the mechanically scanned APY-1/2 radar into the E-3. In place of the large rotodome on the Sentry and E-767, the 737 has a dorsal "top hat" housing three phased-array antennas providing near-360¡ coverage.

Boeing has now broadened its teaming beyond the USA, bringing on board Boeing Australia and BAE Systems for the Australian launch order for four Wedgetail systems, placed in 2000. For the Turkish AEW&C programme, Turkish Aerospace will install mission system kits in three of the four aircraft ordered earlier this year.

The core design includes up to 10 mission consoles, common data processing and communications. Australia will fit its own self-protection suite, while Turkey will equip aircraft with local electronic support measures. The programme has added 127 new suppliers, 2.5 million lines of code, 20,000 part numbers, 2,000 drawings and 6,300 CATIA design models.

Security considerations have made developing the system a challenge. Export licensing requires that AEW&C modification work be performed at Boeing's Wichita plant - despite the fact that the aircraft comes off the line in Seattle as a green airframe, is fitted with auxiliary fuel tanks in Delaware and returns to Seattle to be fitted with a reinforced section 46 to support the antenna.

The first aircraft entered structural modification in March and its MESA radar will arrive at Boeing in September, in the run-up to the start of flight-testing next May. The second aircraft will be certificated by the US Federal Aviation Administration before modification. The first two Wedgetail systems are scheduled for delivery in November 2006, followed by the first two Turkish aircraft in 2007.

Patrick Gill, 737 AEW&C vice-president, says Boeing sees a long-term market for up to 50 systems, including 20-30 over the next 10 years. The next international opportunities are Italy and South Korea, followed by Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Spain, Malaysia and Japan. Post-11 September, Boeing also sees a US homeland security mission for the aircraft and has held talks with domestic agencies such as the US Customs Service, US Coast Guard and Air National Guard.

Source: Flight International