Monday, November 16, 2009

Australia poised to receive first delayed Wedgetail

By Stephen Trimble

The Boeing 737 Wedgetail that arrived here yesterday will be formally delivered the Royal Australian Air Force on 24 November after a costly, three-year delay.

RAAF Air Marshal Mark Binksin, however, confirms to Flight Daily News that the aircraft are not scheduled to become operational until late 2010. Lingering problems with the electronic support measures (ESM) suite supplied by BAE Systems Australia prevent the RAAF from using the airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft in operations.

The RAAF's flight and ground crews will start using the first two of six Wedgetails on order in January for training, Binskin says.

The non-operational delivery later this month is long-awaited after radar and ESM development problems delayed first delivery from 2006 and cost Boeing $1 billion in write-downs to fix the problems.

The Australian government's concerns prompted an engineering review by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Lincoln Laboratories, which reaffirmed that Boeing and Northrop Grumman's technical approach was indeed valid.

Boeing is now marketing the 737 Wedgetail design to the United Arab Emirates, which is also considering rival bids of the Northrop E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and Saab 2000 Erieye.

Binskin, speaking at the Defense International Air Chiefs conference, said the Wedgetail fleet will dramatically improve the RAAF's ability to monitor and protect Australia's vast border and maritime possessions, as well as better co-ordinate regional air operations.

Northrop finally delivers MESA radar

By Stephen Trimble

Northrop Grumman will finally deliver the multi-role electronically scanned array (MESA) radar later this month after a three-year delay, but is already discussing future growth for both the technology and its order backlog.

Northrop views Boeing 737s equipped with the MESA system as a natural replacement for the US Air Force's E-3 airborne warning and control fleet, which is based on Boeing 707s. The USAF currently does not have a requirement to replace the E-3. For Northrop, however, the USAF order can not come soon enough.

"We'd like the [USAF programme] to evolve quickly," said John Johnson, Northrop vice-president and general manager.

Boeing delivers the first two MESA-equipped 737 Wedgetails to the Royal Australian Air Force on 24 March. The delivery comes after the programme faced major radar stability and integration issues that delayed the first delivery for three years and cost Boeing's industry team more than $1 billion in write-downs.

Northrop has greatly improved the radar's stability over the past several months, Johnson said. The same aircraft has also been ordered by Turkey and South Korea.

Looking into the future, Northrop believes that the MESA can be further improved through software upgrades that can refine the performance of the radar's 288 individual transmitters.

"There will be features we can't even think of today that will be used by younger operators as they start to learn to use the system," Johnson said.

The MESA-based airborne early warning and control system remains one of three candidates for the United Arab Emirates, along with the Northrop E-2D Advanced Hawkeye and Saab 2000 Erieye.

The Wedgetail configuration includes a crew capsule with 10 work stations to manage tracking aerial targets and ground targets, processing radar information and co-ordinating with airborne and ground systems.

The radar itself is a dorsal-mounted "top hat" that allows tracking to the left and right with a 60° field of view, and forward and back with a 30° field of view. Using an energy management process called "endfire", the MESA system also can focus all of its energy forward, and in some cases backward, Johnson said.

The radar can detect targets over 360° out to 555km (300nm) in normal tracking mode. Scanning coverage also can "bump out" further to focus on specific targets, Johnson said.


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