Boeing 737 AEW&C Wedgetail Early Warning Aircraft

The Commonwealth of Australia placed a contract worth more than $1bn with Boeing in December 2000 for the development and supply of the 737 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) programme, Project Wedgetail.

Boeing is the prime contractor for the programme and team partners include Northrop Grumman’s Electronics Sensors and Systems, Boeing Australia and BAE Systems Australia.

The initial contract was for four AEW&C systems with options for up to three additional systems. The contract also provides a mission support segment and the associated ground-based support segments for flight and mission crew training. In May 2004, Australia exercised options to purchase an additional two aircraft.

Boeing Australia is responsible for providing systems, engineering and leading product support teams. In January 2010, Boeing was awarded $600m contract to provide project management and engineering services for the AEW&C programme for five years. BAE Systems Australia is to supply the electronic support measures and electronic warfare self-protection systems. Qantas Airways was awarded the contract for maintenance of the aircraft. The first two aircraft were completed by Boeing in the US; the remainder will be modified in Australia.

The first airframe for modification was rolled out in December 2002, ready for modification and installation of the radar and systems.

Then in May 2004, first flight of the aircraft with the radar and mission systems took place at the Boeing Field in Seattle in May 2004. Performance and flight handling tests were completed in July 2005 and the initial aircraft for modification in Australia arrived in January 2006.

The first two aircraft, capable of peacekeeping and training roles, were delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 26 November 2009. These two aircraft entered into service with RAAF in April 2010. The third aircraft was sent in May 2010 and the fourth in December 2010. In September 2011, the fifth aircraft entered service and the sixth and final aircraft was delivered in May 2012.

Wedgetail A30-004 unpainted 27th January 2009 – Image

737 AEW&C orders

In May 2002, the Turkish Government signed a $1.6bn contract with Boeing for four 737 AEW&C systems, with options on a further two. The sale received US Government approval in September 2003. Boeing is modifying the first and Tusas Aerospace Industries (TAI) of Ankara the other three. The first aircraft for local modification arrived in March 2006.

The first flight of the Peace Eagle was in September 2007, while the first aircraft modified by TAI flew in July 2008. Modification of the second aircraft took place at Ankara and Turkey in June 2008 and the mission system and flight checks were finished by the end of 2008.

The first 737 Peace Eagle was delivered to the Turkish Air Force in February 2014, with the second and third aircraft arriving in May 2014 and September 2014 respectively.


r-MilitaryPorn @reddit

In August 2006, the 737 AEW&C was selected as ‘sole candidate’ for South Korea’s E-X requirement for four surveillance aircraft to be delivered by 2012. The $1.6bn contract was awarded to Boeing in November 2006.

Three of four 737 AEW&C surveillance aircraft, called Peace Eye, were delivered to South Korea by May 2012. The fourth and last aircraft was delivered in October 2012.


Operators: Here

Boeing 737-700 aircraft

The aircraft selected for the Wedgetail is the Boeing 737-700 increased gross weight variant (IGW), based on the airframe of the Boeing Business Jet. It is flown by two flight crew with between six and ten mission crew members.

U.S. Air Force / Tech. Sgt. Michael Holzworth

The machine operates at an altitude of 30,000ft to 40,000ft with a maximum operating altitude of 41,000ft. It has state-of-the-art flight deck, avionics and navigation equipment. An extensive communications suite is also included, which has three HF, eight VHF/UHF communications systems together with Link 4A and Link 11 systems.



Minister for Defence Industry, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP and Minister for Defence Senator the Hon Marise Payne, today announced the Australian Government will upgrade the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control capability.

The $582.5 million upgrade is expected to be completed by mid-2022. Between $200 and $240 million will flow to Australian industry, creating 165 highly skilled jobs across the country.

Minister Pyne said the jobs will be spread across the Boeing Defence Australia offices, with 120 jobs in Brisbane and 45 between the RAAF Bases at Amberley and Williamtown.

Ventral view of wing and CFM-56 engine, with slats and flaps deployed (Author; M645/1000S)

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) will upgrade its fleet of six E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft, to include new advanced combat identification sensors; tactical datalinks; communications hardware and encryption system; and mission computing hardware and software upgrades. The fleet was delivered by Boeing from 2009 to 2012, following a troubled development. Australian defense minister Marise Payne announced the upgrade the day before she presided over delivery of the last two of 12 Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft to the RAAF.

Boeing Defence Australia will lead the Wedgetail upgrade under AIR 5077 Phase 5A with support from Boeing’s Airborne Surveillance Command and Control team in the U.S. and a network of suppliers. The program is structured into three separate releases and is expected to cost (U.S.)$443.2 million.

Release 1 of the upgrade will include target identification, mission computing upgrades and increased situational awareness through larger visual monitor displays, and it will be applied to two aircraft by early 2019. The fleet will subsequently receive integrated IP Chat communications upgrades into mission computing, datalink upgrades, a new wide-band satellite system and dual display upgrades by mid-2022. Source

Engines of the Boeing 737-700

CFM56-7B24 engine – Michael J Barritt

The aircraft is equipped with two CFM International CFM56-7B24 engines, each rated at 118kN.

It has a flying boom receptacle and a fixed probe providing dual in-flight refuelling capability. The CFM56-7B24 engine is also equipped with dual annular combustor for low emissions capability, common core and low pressure turbine.

The aircraft reduces fuel burn using innovative thermodynamic cycle.

CFM56-7B24 engine

Selected by Boeing as the sole-source powerplant for its Next-Generation 737 range, the CFM56-7B develops 19,500 to 27,300 pounds of thrust. Thanks to upgrades to the core and low-pressure turbine, the latest CFM56-7BE configuration delivers significant performance improvements for operators, including a 1% reduction in fuel consumption and a 4% cut in maintenance costs, as well as extended part lifetimes. The CFM56-7BE is fully interchangeable with other CFM56-7B engines and modules, and upgrade kits can be easily fitted to the CFM56-7B and CFM56-7B/3, providing maximum flexibility for operators.

CFM56-7B24 engine –

Versions -7B18/3 -7B20/3 -7B22/3 -7B24/3 -7B26/3 -7B27/3
Applications 737-600 737-600, 737-700 737-600, 737-700 737-700, 737-800, 737-900 737-700, 737-800, 737-900, BBJ 737-700, 737-800, 737-900, BBJ-BBJ2
Max. takeoff thrust (lbf) 19,500 20,600 22,700 24,200 26,300 27,300
Temp. at flat rating (°F) 86 86 86 86 86 86
Bypass ratio 5.50 5.40 5.30 5.30 5.10 5.10
Max climb thrust (lbf) 5,960 5,960 5,960 5,960 5,960 5,960
Length (in) 103.5 103.5 103.5 103.5 103.5 103.5
Fan diameter (in) 61.0 61.0 61.0 61.0 61.0 61.0
Number of fan/low-pressure/high-pressure compressor stages 1+3+9 1+3+9 1+3+9 1+3+9 1+3+9 1+3+9
Number of low-pressure/high-pressure turbine stages 1+4 1+4 1+4 1+4 1+4 1+4
Dry weight (lbs) 5,260 – 5,280 5,260 – 5 280 5,260 – 5,280 5,260 – 5,280 5,260 – 5,280 5,260 – 5,28


Mission avionics from BAE Systems North America

The Advanced Systems Division of BAE Systems North America is supplying major elements of the aircraft’s mission avionics, including cockpit tactical mission displays, command and control consoles and mission computers.

Royal Australian Air Force

There are six multirole / multipurpose mission consoles with ultra-high resolution flat panel tactical displays installed in the aircraft. Production of the equipment is being carried out at BAE’s Advanced Systems Greenlawn facility.

The computers use advanced signal processing algorithms to analyse, categorise and prioritise data. This data is presented to the mission crew on an integrated situation display on the system console.

Royal Australian Air Force

Royal Australian Air Force

Royal Australian Air Force

Royal Australian Air Force

The open system architecture ensures the systems can be upgraded and extended. The AEW&C Wedgetail aircraft is compatible and interoperable with the E-3 and 767 AWACS airborne warning and control system aircraft.

AEW&C Peace Eagle aircraft, which are designated for Turkey, are being fitted with EADS Defence Electronics multisensor integration software.

Radar of the AEW&C aircraft

Northrop-Grumman MESA L-band AESA primary antennas. The sidelooking slab arrays provide beam aspect azimuth, range and heightfinding capability. The dorsal “surfboard” antenna provides coverage over the nose an tail sectors. Note the dual air inlets in the leading edge employed for cooling (Author; M645/1000S)

The most prominent of the many antenna and optical apertures is the MESA “top hat” AESA antenna subsystem shared between the L-band radar and its integrated IFF system. This design is both innovative but also the principal cause of numerous development problems which resulted in a four year delay against the intended schedule and loss in capability against the initial specification.

The dorsal fin mounts the transmit/receive elements for the left and right looking MESA slab arrays. These are a very conventional planar AESA design. The close proximity between the lower edge of the array and upper fuselage presents some problems with coupling between near field lobes and the aircraft structure. The MESA will provide reasonable heightfinding capability as the ~3:1 ratio permits sufficient phase difference across the vertical dimension of the array.

Northrop-Grumman MESA L-band AESA primary antennas. The cavity endfire is in the upper “surfboard”, and the sidelooking arrays in the vertical fin (Author; HS10)

The cavity endfire antenna mounted on top of the dorsal fin is intended to provide coverage over the nose and the tail of the aircraft. This design is the first attempt at a production cavity endfire array. It can provide beamsteering in the horizontal plane, generating a vertical fan shaped beam. The internal arrangement is a lower surface with an array of radiating elements, described as a “bed of nails” and a upper surface which is a conventional waveguide arrangement. The design radiates, subject to element phase control, out of the front or the rear openings in the cavity. Public disclosures are insufficient to determine the extent to which the close proximity of the fuselage and tail surfaces impacted performance either by shadowing, near field coupling, or far field reflection. Source

Northrop-Grumman MESA L-band AESA cavity endfire radome (Author; HS10)

The MESA multirole electronically scanned array radar is being supplied by Northrop Grumman Electronic Sensors and Systems Division, based in Baltimore. Tenix Defence Systems of Adelaide, Australia, is supplying some components and modules for the radar. MESA provides 360 degree coverage and a range of more than 200nm.

The system’s variable track update rates and dedicated tracking modes allow the operator to track allied and hostile high performance aircraft while continuously scanning the area of operations.

This scan features an assembly of transmit and receive modules, operating at L-band and sharing three apertures to provide the 360 degree coverage. The radar system provides a high level of operational capability because the system is dynamically structured to match the changing mission requirements.

When an operator requires a long range view of a selected sector of the operational area, then the relevant system modes can be selected to initiate the search of that sector at more than twice the nominal uniform surveillance range.

An integrated identification friend or foe system (IFF) is combined with the primary radar and uses the same aperture as the primary radar, which avoids target correlation problems. The IFF system has an operational range of more than 300nm.

The distinctive ‘top hat’ radome provides a low aerodynamic drag profile while meeting the requirement for fore and aft coverage. Two large strakes are fitted on the underside at the rear section of the fuselage.

The strakes provide an aerodynamic balance to offset the effect of the MESA radome on the upper surface of the fuselage. In January 2005, flight tests of the aircraft were temporarily suspended while the upper surface of the radome was raised by about 100mm, to improve radar performance.

Two ventral strakes –

Type: Radar Altitude Max: 0 m
Range Max: 648.2 km Altitude Min: 0 m
Range Min: 0.2 km Generation: Early 2000s
Properties: Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) [Side Info], Non-Coperative Target Recognition (NCTR) – Jet Engine Modulation [Class Info], Continous Tracking Capability [Phased Array Radar], Pulse Doppler Radar (Full LDSD Capability)
MESA – (Wedgetail) Radar
Role: Radar, Air & Surface Search, 3D Long-Range
Max Range: 648.2 km


Countermeasure technology on the Wedgetail

The MESA radar is supplemented by a variant of the BAe Systems Australia ALR-2001 Odyssey ESM system, based on the Israeli Elta EL/M-8300 (8382) series ESM/ELINT system, which employs a suite of four antenna systems for the microwave bands, mounted under nose, tail and wingtip radomes, and a suite of ventral antennas for the lower bands. Cited EL/M-8300 (8382)  performance parameters are a DF accuracy under 1°, instantaneous bandwidth of ~4 GHz, sensitivity between -70 and -85 dBm, and band coverage between 500 MHz and 18 GHz. The production installation may employ optical links for RF signal transmission through the airframe. Source

BAE Systems Australia is responsible for the electronic warfare self protection and electronic support measures subsystems for the Wedgetail.

Elta Electronics of Israel was selected to supply the advanced ESM/ELINT electronic support measures system.

ALR-2001 ESM

Nose ESM antenna radome assembly with exposed AAR-54 MAWS apertures –

Wingtip ALR-2001 ESM array  –

Aft ventral centre fuselage showing ALR-2001 low band antenna array  –

Aft tailcone mounting MIDS/JTIDS/Link-16, AN/AAR-54 MAWS, ALR-2001 ESM apertures and the ventral dummy AN/AAQ-24 DIRCM turret  –

Type: ESM Altitude Max: 0 m
Range Max: 926 km Altitude Min: 0 m
Range Min: 0 km Generation: Early 1980s
EL/ALR-2001 Odyssey – (Australia, P-3, OTH Harpoon Targeting, L-8300) ESM
Max Range: 926 km


The system provides 360 degree instantaneous surveillance and is similar to Elta ESM systems on RAAF P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.

C3 suite

RF antennas for the extensive C3 suite, covering voice and data channels, are located primarily on the ventral and dorsal fuselage centrelines. Source

Aft ventral fuselage showing C3 low band antenna arrays (Author; M645)

Ventral antennas for C3 system (Author; 645AFD)

In February 2002, Northrop Grumman Electronic Sensors was awarded the contract to provide the AN/AAQ-24(V) Nemesis directional infra-red countermeasures (DIRCM) system, augmented with the Viper solid state multiband laser.

AN/AAQ-24(V) Nemesis directional infra-red countermeasures (DIRCM) system

AN/AAQ-24(V) Directional Infrared Countermeasure (DIRCM) system /

The AN/AAQ-24(V) Directional Infrared Countermeasure (DIRCM) system is the only DIRCM system in production today that will protect aircraft from today’s infrared guided missiles.

Traditional IR countermeasures are not effective against the modern IR missiles that are growing in popularity among terrorist groups and in thirdworld countries. A Directional Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM) system is required to defeat the latest and future advanced IR threats, and has a lower life cycle cost compared to other IR countermeasure approaches.

  • Simultaneously tracks and defeats threats in clutter environments
  • Fast, accurate threat detection and simultaneous jamming in all current IR threat Bands (I, II and IV)
  • Counters all fielded IR missile threats using a single generic jam waveform
  • Complete end-to-end self-testing features reduce life-cycle maintenance
  • Compatible with existing support facilities

Customized installation

The AAQ-24(V) is available in a laser-based configuration. Northrop Grumman then selects from a modular family of transmitters, jammers and missile warning systems to provide a customized installation best able to meet your specific platform, mission and budget requirements. Upgrades to existing systems are easy to install without further airframe modifications. Source

AN/AAR-54(V) Missile Warning System (MWS)

The AAR-54(V) is a fourth-generation Missile Approach Warning System now in production and available for use on virtually every platform – helicopters, fast jets, and tactical and widebody aircraft. In all applications, this compact, lightweight system provides outstanding clutter rejection, long range and short shot missile detection, rapid automatic cuing to the countermeasures system, and increased situational awareness capabilities via heads-up display (HUD) or radar warning receiver (RWR) display.

Designed for high performance protection, the AAR-54 passively detects ultraviolet (UV) energy from the missile’s exhaust plume, tracks multiple sources, rapidly and accurately classifies each source, and provides threat information to the countermeasures system for optimum response.


The AAR-54 can be interfaced to a chaff/flare Countermeasures Dispenser System (CMDS) or integrated as part of a Directional Infrared Countermeasures (DIRCM) self-protection suite. With its adaptive design, all applications can use common hardware and software. System simplicity allows for internal installations or external mounting in a pod or pylon. Source

Performance of Boeing’s aircraft

Brett Shillabeer @flickr

The aircraft’s maximum take-off weight is 171,000lb (77,110kg). It flies at an altitude of 30,000ft-40,000ft with a maximum operating altitude of 41,000ft. The time on station is estimated at more than nine hours.

The maximum dash and normal cruise speed of the aircraft are 955km/h and 759km/h respectively. The range is 7,040km and the service ceiling is 12,500m.


Laith Jobran @flickr


ROLE Airborne early warning and control
CREW Pilot, co-pilot and airborne electronics analysts and mission specialists
ENGINE Two CFM International CFM56-7 turbofans (27,300 lb thrust each)
AIRFRAME Length 33.6 m, height 12.6 m
WEIGHT Maximum take-off weight 77,565 kg, maximum landing weight 60,782 kg
SPEED Maximum 955 km/h, cruise 760 km/h
RANGE 7,040 km
CEILING 41,000 feet
  • Multi-role electronically scanned array (MESA) radar with range in excess of 400km
  • Electronic warfare self-protection measures including directed infra-red counter-measures, chaff and flares
  • Communication systems including HF, VHF, UHF, Link-11, Link-16, UHF SATCOM and ICS
  • 10 mission consoles


Main material source

Images are from public domain unless otherwise stated

Main image

Revised Jul 11, 2018

Updated July 14, 2021

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