KATHERINE, Australia — U.S. and British personnel joined a Royal Australian Air Force crew to train on the Boeing E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft as part of a multinational air combat exercise here in northern Australia.
Speaking to media during a visit to RAAF Base Tindal near Katherine, detachment commander Squadron Leader Adam Paull of 2 Squadron, which operates the Australian E-7As, said that the aircraft flew alternately in support of both blue and red air missions at the exercise, as well as performing overall airspace control and management at Exercise Pitch Black. The blue and red color designations are military jargon for simulated friendly and adversary factions, respectively.
Also attending the media session was Air Battle Manager Maj. Christopher Dunn of the United States Air Force and Flight Lieutenant Sophie Gale of the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force.
Both the U.S. and British air forces have ongoing acquisition programs to buy the E-7A, which is based on a commercial Boeing 737 airliner and is fitted with a Northrop Grumman multi-role electronically scanned array radar on a fairing on top of its fuselage.
Dunn said his transition to the E-7A from the current Boeing E-3 Sentrys was relatively seamless due to the relatively similarity in user interfaces on both platforms, with the key difference being the smaller number of operator consoles on the E-7A.
The the main benefits of the new plane type were the modern, electronically scanned array radar and communications suite and the improved reliability of the newer airframe, he explained.
Dunn is on a three-year tour with the Australian air service, which is expected to end in 2024 or 2025, an experience he expects to apply to the envisioned U.S. Air Force E-7A fleet. He told Defense News that there are currently three U.S. personnel embedded with 2 Sqn, including a U.S. Navy operator trained on E-2D Hawkeye carrier-borne aircraft.
He also expects the embedding of U.S. military personnel to 2 Sqn to ramp up in the coming months, as the U.S. Air Force seeks to build up a cadre of operators in the lead up to the service receiving its first aircraft in 2027.
The Royal Air Force’s Gale, who is an asset manager for the mission computing system and an engineer officer trained on helicopters, said that her service’s embedding of personnel here was not just to train operationally but also to help the UK’s E-7A project office make informed decisions about acquisition and sustainment contracts.
The RAF has around 40 maintainers, technicians, and aircrew embedded with 2 Sqn, which is normally based at Williamtown, north of Australia’s largest city Sydney on the country’s southeast coast.
Paull said the advantage of bringing over personnel from different backgrounds and trained on vastly different platforms into their own program enabled the sharing of fresh perspectives and ideas into their own systems.
During the Pitch Black exercise, which runs from Aug. 19 to Sept. 8 and involves aircraft from 10 countries, the Australian E-7A took turns flying missions alongside a Gulfstream G550 aircraft of the Republic of Singapore Air Force.
Paull told reporters that the aircraft also flew missions in support of a separate training exercise in northern Australia involving U.S. Air Force F-22A Raptor and Australian F-35A Lightning II stealth fighters.
The American Raptors, which are assigned to 15th Wing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam in Hawaii, are in Australia as part of the Enhanced Air Cooperation (EAC) program between Australia and the United States.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.