The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has reached a $1.98bn deal to procure a fleet of E-7 early warning radar aircraft from Boeing for the British Royal Air Force (RAF).

The MoD will purchase five E-7 aircraft as a replacement for the existing Sentry aircraft.

In addition, the new E-7 fleet will ensure the continued delivery of the UK’s Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) capability.

The UK will become the fourth country to buy the aircraft after Australia, South Korea and Turkey.

E-7 is known as ‘Wedgetail’ in Australia and has the ability to fly for long periods of time and manage battlespace from the sky.

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “The E-7 provides a technological edge in an increasingly complex battlespace, allowing our ships and aircraft to track and target adversaries more effectively than ever. This deal also strengthens our vital military partnership with Australia.

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“We will operate state-of-the-art F-35 jets and world-class Type-26 warships, and this announcement will help us work even more closely together to tackle the global threats we face.”

The aircraft is designed to track multiple airborne and maritime targets simultaneously. It can provide situational awareness and direct other assets such as fighter jets and warships.

According to the MoD, the E-7 aircraft is based on the Boeing 737 NG airliner, which was modified to allow integration of a Northrop Grumman multi-role electronically scanned array (MESA) surveillance radar.

“E-7 will form a core element of the next-generation airforce, able to overcome both current and future complex threats.”

With a cruise speed of 530mph, the E-7 has a range of four million square kilometres over a period of ten hours.

Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group will be responsible for the modification of all five aircraft at its Cambridge facility in the UK.

Modification work will help sustain more than 200 highly skilled jobs.

The deal is also expected to provide opportunities for British suppliers in the area of training and support arrangements.

UK chief of the air staff air chief marshal Sir Stephen Hillier said: “This world-class capability, already proven with our Royal Australian Air Force partners, will significantly enhance our ability to deliver decisive airborne command and control and builds on the reputation of our E3D Sentry Force.

“Along with defence’s investment in other cutting-edge aircraft, E-7 will form a core element of the next-generation airforce, able to overcome both current and future complex threats.”

The new fleet is anticipated to enter service with the RAF in the early 2020s.

Other technological features included in the aircraft are multiple high-frequemcy radios, modern electronic support measures (ESM) equipment and electronic warfare self-protection (EWSP).

Reports first emerged in October that the MoD is in talks with Boeing for the acquisition of a fleet of Wedgetail E-7 aircraft.

Since last year, British aircrews have been undergoing training on the E-7 aircraft in Australia, reported DefenseNews.