Infrastructure construction to support the UK Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) future fleet of three Boeing E-7 Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft at RAF Lossiemouth is starting in earnest with the announcement on 14 March 2023 that Glasgow-based McLaughlin & Harvey Construction Ltd has been selected for the work.
The Scottish company has been subcontracted to undertake the build under a GBP83 M (EUR 94 M) contract placed by the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) Defence Equipment and Support organisation with Boeing Defence UK on 31 January 2023.
The E-7 infrastructure will be built alongside the recently completed Atlantic Building at RAF Lossiemouth, from which the RAF’s fleet of nine Boeing Poseidon MRA1 maritime patrol aircraft operate. The Atlantic Building was constructed under a GBP 100 M joint investment by Boeing and the UK MoD.
According to McLaughlin & Harvey’s website, the “E-7 technical infrastructure programme is expected to complete in 2025”, although this is after the point at which the UK is expected to receive its first Wedgetail.
UK Minister for Defence Procurement Alex Chalk responded to a parliamentary question on 7 March 2023 by saying that the first RAF Wedgetail “is expected to be delivered to the Ministry of Defence in 2024, following completion of its flight test programme and initial certification activity”.
While the initial operating capability (IOC) for the RAF’s E-7s fleet has already slipped from 2023 to 2024, Chalk noted in his response that IOC for the RAF’s E-7 fleet “will follow three to six months after delivery”, but added that “Analysis to determine the exact timing of the E-7 Wedgetail initial operating capability is ongoing and will be confirmed when the Full Business Case is submitted in mid-2023.”
The RAF’s E-7s, to be known as Wedgetail AEW1s in UK service, will be operated by the RAF’s 8 Squadron, which was relocated to RAF Lossiemouth from RAF Waddington following the retirement of the RAF’s fleet of E-3D Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft in 2021.
Five E-7s were originally ordered in March 2019, but the UK’s 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy reduced the buy to three aircraft. The RAF retains the aspiration for a fleet of five E-7s to eventually be procured.