Home' Asia Pacific Defence Reporter : APDR February 2011 Contents 14 | Asia Pacific Defence Reporter
AIRBORNE EARLY WARNING AND CONTROL
EXPANDING THE ENVELOPE
– WEDGETAIL AEW&C
The recent Auditor General’s 2009-10 Major Projects Report states Wedgetail’s radar performance will not meet specification at final delivery and
identified other technical challenges in the development of the Electronic Support Measures, Electronic Warfare Self Protection and ground support
systems. Delivery of the final configuration has subsequently been put back between six and nine months whilst another software increment is
negotiated with the manufacturer.
The good news is that significant progress has been made over the past year or so and, subject to a successful negotiation of the next software increment,
final configuration should be delivered during the middle of the year, allowing Initial Operating Capability to follow in December.
Testing of the Northrop Grumman Multi-Role
Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar
during the last few years has revealed significant
shortfalls in performance, particularly with side-
lobe issues, which affect the radar’s ability to
see through clutter and also have an impact on
false alarm performance. By the end of 2008 an
impasse between Boeing (as prime contractor)
and the Commonwealth had been reached, as
the original contract did not allow for aircraft
to be accepted until developmental testing had
been completed – and developmental testing
could not be completed whilst a performance
shortfall existed. To the credit of all stakeholders,
a ‘Standstill Deed’ enabled the Commonwealth
to accept the aircraft ‘as is’ and allow further
development and training , therefore minimising
further delay as much as possible.
This was good news for No.2 Squadron - no
longer did they gaze out of their headquarters
building at an empty flight line - and two aircraft
were provisionally accepted in November 2009.
Although Boeing retained ownership (providing
flight and mission commanders each flight) and
still US-registered, the aircraft provided valuable
experience to RAAF crews whilst an incremental
capability increase was being developed.
Prior to this the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology’s Lincoln Labs was engaged for
research into the radar technology, to determine if
the MESA system would be capable of delivering
a viable operational capability. Happily the results
showed the basic technology was sound and
that MESA had a growth path. Since then, the
Commonwealth, Boeing, Northrop Grumman,
MIT Lincoln Labs and various US Government
agencies have been working on this incremental
path to a desirable outcome.
Work progressed to the extent where the
aircraft at Williamtown were able to be formally
brought on charge in May last year, in an initial
configuration, and have since been joined by two
more. Of the two remaining, one is undergoing
conversion at Boeing Defence Australia’s
Amberley facility and the other remains in Seattle
to support ongoing development work. Three
operational crews have now been trained.
While progress is good news for all stakeholders,
technical challenges still remain and there will be
some radar shortfall - compared with the original
contract - even in the final configuration. The
Electronic Support Measures (ESM) and Electronic
Warfare Self Protection (EWSP) systems are also
behind schedule and software issues have taken
longer to understand and rectify than desired.
Final Operating Capability is now planned for
December 2012, meaning the programme is some
four years behind the original schedule.
Wedgetail AEW&C over Newcastle.
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