USAF Looking At Possible E-7 Buy

Credit: U.S. Air Force

NATIONAL HARBOR, Maryland—The U.S. Air Force is looking at purchasing the E-7 Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft to replace its aging E-3 Sentry fleet after multiple major command bosses have asked for it.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said Sept. 20 that there is some interest in the E-7 and “it could be useful to the Air Force,” though he did not commit to a possible purchase. The Boeing 737-based aircraft is in service with multiple countries, including Australia and South Korea.

Air Combat Command boss Gen. Mark Kelly, speaking during the Air Force Association Air, Space & Cyber Conference, highlighted Australia’s use of the aircraft. 

“Unlike our closest treaty allies, we do not field a cutting-edge, air-moving target indicator capability,” Kelly said. “We don’t.”

The Air Force is relying on the aging 707-based E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System in the role, but Kelly said it is getting harder to keep the aircraft flying. 

“They’ve served out nation well. They’re serving our nation right now,” Kelly said. However, “There’s a reason why exactly zero airlines on the globe fly the 707. Because it takes miracle workers every day to just get it up in the air.” 

Previous Air Force major command leaders have also publicly called for the Wedgetail to join the Air Force fleet. In February, Pacific Air Forces boss Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach said the Air Force struggles to get the E-3 into the air because it is not reliable. “It gets harder and harder to get airborne,” he said. U.S. Air Forces in Europe leader Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian also has expressed support.

The Air Force expects to fly the E-3 into the 2030s, but Wilsbach said the fleet is “challenged at the moment because of how old it is.”

Brian Everstine

Brian Everstine is the Pentagon Editor for Aviation Week, based in Washington, D.C. Before joining Aviation Week in August 2021, he covered the Pentagon for Air Force Magazine. Brian began covering defense aviation in 2011 as a reporter for Military Times.