LOS ANGELES — The Royal Australian Air Force says it is on course to achieve initial operating capability for the 737-based Wedgetail airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) fleet later this year, following delivery of the sixth and final aircraft.

The handover, which Boeing says took place May 2, marks the finale of a long-running saga that saw deliveries and full-up capability demonstration delayed for several years by integration and development issues. The program started in 1997 when Boeing was awarded a contract to supply four AEW&Cs plus options for up to three additional Wedgetails.

Deliveries were originally slated to begin in 2006, but that year Boeing acknowledged the program was delayed after it encountered significant issues with the development and integration of sensors, including the Northrop Grumman multi-role electronically scanned array (MESA) “Top Hat” radar housed above the fuselage. Further delays were announced in 2008 associated with additional integration issues with the MESA, as well as the electronic support measure systems.

The first two aircraft eventually were accepted by the RAAF in November 2009, with formal induction into the operational fleet the following May. The aircraft are all operated by RAAF No. 2 Sqdn. based at Williamtown, near Newcastle, New South Wales, with a permanent detachment at RAAF Base Tindal in the Northern Territory.

Wedgetail program manager Air Vice Marshal Chris Deeble says “2 Squadron now has a full complement of aircraft and additional capability that will enable initial operational capability to be declared later this year.”

The final delivery to Australia comes as Boeing marks the handover on May 21 of the third Peace Eye AEW&C to South Korea. The last of four Peace Eyes for the South Korean air force is being modified by Korea Aerospace Industries in Sacheon and is due to be delivered by year’s end. Turkey’s first Peace Eagle AEW&C is on track for delivery by the end of the year, according to Boeing, which began maintenance training for Turkish air force personnel in Seattle in April. Turkey has ordered four Peace Eagle aircraft, three of which are undergoing modification work at Turkish Aerospace Industries in Ankara.