Three consortia, led by Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon E-Systems, have been awarded long-awaited initial-design-activity (IDA) contracts for Project Wedgetail, Australia's competition for an airborne early-warning-and-control-system (AWACS) aircraft.

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) is expected to pick the Project Wedgetail winner before the end of 1998, and award the production contract in the first quarter of 1999. Initial deployment of the surveillance aircraft will take place in 2002, but aircraft deliveries could be moved forward a year.

The IDA contracts, each worth about $6 million, allow the competitors to begin critical-design work before submitting full tenders in 1998. Australia's requirement is for four aircraft, with an option for two more, but the RAAF is believed to be interested in discussing a contract totalling six or seven firm orders.

Boeing's bid is based on the corporate-jet version of the latest 737, fitted with a dorsal-mounted multi-role electronically scanned-array radar supplied by Northrop Grumman's Baltimore, Maryland-based Electronic Sensors and Systems division.

Boeing Australia is providing systems engineering and programme support. British Aerospace Australia is supplying the passive surveillance and electronic-warfare self-protection system.

A Raytheon E-Systems/Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) team is offering an Airbus A310 fitted with the electronically scanned Elta Phalcon phased-array radar. Lockheed Martin, while Northrop Grumman's Electronic and System Integration unit based in Bethpage, New York, is offering a lower-cost solution, built around the C-130J, with a Lockheed Martin APS-145 radar.

Meanwhile, another three-way race, to provide South Korea with between three and five airborne-early-warning (AEW) aircraft, worth $3 billion, is also under way.

Boeing is offering the 767 AWACS, mounting the enhanced Northrop Grumman APY-2 radar. Saab and Ericsson have teamed to offer the Saab 2000, with the dorsal-mounted phased-array Erieye.

IAI is also a contestant, with the Elta Phalcon radar mounted in the 767. It is believed that IAI may also have tendered an AEW system built around the Airbus A310.

Source: Flight International