Markets for Radar Aircraft Remain Robust, Says Boeing

By Tiron, Roxana | National Defense, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Markets for Radar Aircraft Remain Robust, Says Boeing


Tiron, Roxana, National Defense


The market for airborne early-warning and control aircraft is expected to grow, as airframes continue to age, said industry officials. The average age of current AEW&C airframes is 17 years.

Users of AEW&C platforms are expected to upgrade these systems, to extend their operational life as a much as possible. Meanwhile, companies such as Boeing and Northrop Grumman are marketing new replacement options, such as smaller jets with electronically-scanned radar. Sixteen nations today operate approximately 220 AEW&C systems.

An AEW&C aircraft typically consists of a large radar mounted on a big jet, such as a Boeing 707 or 767. It is used by nations to monitor portions of the airspace. One of the most widely used systems today is the Boeing E-3 Sentry AWACS. Boeing officials said the AWACS is expected to fly until 2035, while the company is positioning its smaller 737 platform to become the replacement for the AWACS in the future.

There are 70 AWACS around the world today. The United States is leading the pack with 33, followed by NATO with 17, United Kingdom with seven, Japan with four, France with four and Saudi Arabia with five.

For most countries outside NATO, AWACS is too expensive to purchase and maintain, each platform costing at least $500 million and up, depending on the features.

Allen Ashby, Boeing's vice president for airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, said AWACS customers are planning major enhancements to their platforms.

The United States has not yet decided exactly what platforms it will buy to replace the AWACS, currently operated by the U.S. Air Force. The service is funding a notional multi-sensor aircraft, called the MC2A (multi-sensor command and control aircraft) program, which would replace the AWACS, the signals-intelligence Rivet Joint and the Joint STARS ground surveillance platforms. A rest-bed currently in development uses a 707 Boeing jet.

To AWACS customers and to nations seeking an AEW&C capability for the first time, Boeing is offering a system that uses the smaller 737 jet as a platform and features Northrop Grumman's multi-role electronically scanned array (Mesa) radar. It is informally known as Wedgetail, because that was the name of the Australian program that selected the 737 system.

In contrast to the 30-foot diameter rotating radar-dome antenna found in the AWACS, the Wedgetail system has a "top hat" 25-by-30-foot antenna. The Mesa has a steerable electronic beam, which helps achieve uniform coverage our to 190 nautical miles, said Ashby. …

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