The Royal Australian Air Force's (RAAF) Boeing-built Wedgetail airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) fleet has achieved its initial operational capability (IOC), Australian defence materiel minister Jason Clare has revealed.
Speaking during a ceremony at Fairbairn Defence Establishment at Canberra Airport, Clare said the IOC milestone is a result of collaborative efforts by the RAAF, Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO), Boeing and their respective subcontractors.
"This is a very complex piece of military hardware. The project faced a lot of challenges. We have met these challenges by working together," Clare added.
Commenting about the aircraft, the minister said the aircraft is ''one of the most advanced air battlespace management capabilities in the world.''
IOC is the minimum standard required by the Department of Defence (DoD) for flying operations, and involves the comprehensive assessment of self-sufficiency of the aircraft, trained ground and aircrew, technical support staff, as well as weapons and spare parts.
The Wedgetail aircraft is scheduled to be formally removed from the government's projects of concern (POC) list in the next few days.
Six Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft were ordered by RAAF from Boeing at a cost of A$3.45bn ($3.56bn) under Project AIR 5077 in December 2009.
The procurement was delayed due to integration issues, and the final aircraft was delivered to the air force in June 2012.
All aircraft are currently based at RAAF Base Williamtown in New South Wales, with a permanent detachment at RAAF Base Tindal in Katherine, and are operated by personnel from No. 2 Squadron.
The aircraft has participated during the Exercise Bersama Lima in Malaysia, Exercise Cope North Guam, Exercise Bersama Shield, Exercise Red Flag and Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in US, since 2011.
The Wedgetail is a modified Boeing 737-700 commercial aircraft, featuring an advanced multi-role electronically scanned radar and ten mission crew consoles for simultaneous tracking of airborne and maritime targets.
Image: a Royal Australian Air Force's Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft.