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AVALON: RAAF upbeat on Wedgetail reliability

The Royal Australian Air Force says recent operational experience operating the Boeing E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) aircraft has established the platform's effectiveness.

Speaking to media, RAAF Wg Cdr Paul Carpenter says that receipt of Initial Operational Capability in December 2012 marked a key milestone in the type's service history.

"IOC was very significant, because it put us on the hook for taskings," says Carpenter.

He says the aircraft has performed very well in overseas exercises that have helped the RAAF hone operational and logistics procedures for the type, which is based on the 737 airliner.

So far the aircraft has seen active duty in two missions: the search for MH370, a lost Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER, off western Australia in March-April 2014; and in operations against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

Dozens of aircraft from several countries were involved in the search last for MH370, and the Wedgetail played an important role in guiding the search and ensuring the safety of searching aircraft.

Over Iraq, the single Wedgetail deplyed has performed very well, with reliability rates of 90% or higher. Carpenter says the relative youth of the Wedgetail's airframe against that of USAF E-3 Sentry means that far fewer Wedgetails are required to generate high sortie rates. Moreover, the type can draw on the global 737 support chain when operating away from Australia.

One area for improvement, he says, is for pilots qualified in air-to-air refuelling. Prior to Iraq operations, few Wedgetail pilots had experience refuelling the type through the boom, mainly owing to delays with the boom on Austraila's Airbus Millitary A330 multi-role tanker transport (MRTT) aircraft.

Over Iraq, the type typically flies every other day, performing missions of 12-16 hours.

Carpenter adds that the aircraft's Northrop Grumman MESA (multi-role electronically scanned array) radar has performed very well, generating "more data and more quality data...it also allows you to allocate energy where you need it."

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