The US Air Force (USAF) has selected Boeing’s E-7 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft as the replacement for the E-3 Sentry airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft.

The decision will see a portion of the E-3 fleet being replaced with the E-7 aircraft. The USAF is expected to award the related contract in fiscal year (FY) 2023.

The USAF’s 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma received the first E-3 Sentry aircraft in March 1977. There are currently 31 E-3 aircraft in the US inventory.

According to the USAF, Boeing’s E-7 aircraft is the only platform to meet the requirements of the US Department of Defence’s (DoD) tactical battle management and command and control.

The E-3 Sentry AWACS aircraft provides an accurate, real-time picture of the battlespace to the US Joint Air Operations Centre.

The FY23 President’s Budget (PB) calls for the divestment of 15 aircraft from the E-3 AWACS fleet, which comprises 31 aircraft.

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It will redirect approximately $227m in funding from PB FY23 for the research, development, test and evaluation of the aircraft.

The funds will further support the procurement of a rapid prototype of E-7 aircraft, with delivery expected in FY27.

The notional schedule amount required to procure the second rapid prototype aircraft will be also funded in FY24.

The second prototype’s acquisition will follow a final production decision in FY25 to continue fielding the E-7 aircraft.

Initially developed by Australia for the Australian Defence Forces, the E-7 capability was leveraged by the US due to its alliance with the country and interoperability among armed forces.

In 2019, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) awarded a contract to procure the E-7 aircraft for the Royal Air Force.