NATO plans to acquire six Boeing E-7A Wedgetail aircraft for introduction from early next decade, as part of preparations to draw down its veteran Boeing E-3A airborne warning and control system (AWACS) fleet.
Announcing the move on 15 November, the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) says the initial Alliance Future Surveillance and Control (iAFSC) capability deal will be “Based on a US Foreign Military Sales [FMS] case”.
“Through a rigorous assessment process, NSPA, along with NATO and national experts, assessed industry’s responses to requests for information and price and availability, as well as capabilities of [bidding] firms,” the agency says.
“The support partnership nations – Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania and the United States – and NSPA concluded that the E-7A is the only known system currently capable of fulfilling the strategic commands’ essential operational requirements and key performance parameters and available for delivery within the timeframe required,” it adds.
Noting that the current AWACS fleet will be retired from use around 2035, the NSPA says the planned order “will deliver an initial element to mitigate the risk of airborne surveillance and control capability gap”.
“The Wedgetail will be integrated, as one contributing element, to the overall Alliance Future Surveillance and Control system of systems capability,” it says. Its planned broader capability also will include space and maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, along with an already operational Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Alliance Ground Surveillance fleet of unmanned Global Hawks.
Acquiring the E-7A will ensure a “smooth transition from the existing capability across other lines of development and into the future”, says the NSPA, adding: “The approach recognises the benefits of economies of scale, commonality and interoperability deriving from multinational acquisition of military off-the-shelf platforms.”
Among NATO members, Turkey already flies the E-7A, three 737NGs are in modification to the same standard for the UK, and the US Air Force has selected the type to replace its E-3 AWACS inventory. Other current operators of the Wedgetail airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system are Australia and South Korea.
Initial operational capability for the iAFSC system should be achieved in 2031.
“NSPA’s acquisition strategy of a sole source, FMS, multinational solution is set to deliver a range of benefits that will bolster the Alliance’s ability to respond to evolving security challenges,” says the agency’s general manager, Stacy Cummings.
The decision represents a disappointment for Saab, which previously said it had offered NATO a “fully compliant solution” for the iAFSC need, based on a GlobalEye development of the Bombardier Global 6500. Unlike the multi-role surveillance GlobalEyes currently flown by the UAE and also ordered by Sweden, the Alliance offering boasted a 360° AEW&C performance via the integration of additional radar arrays.