South Korea has been offered the Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning Aircraft, which has been adopted by Australia. The Wedgetail aircraft is a Boeing 737 equipped with the Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar. It first flew in May and is now undergoing an FAA airworthiness certification program. Australia has purchased six of the airplanes to date, with the last two to be delivered in 2008. Turkey has purchased four, with the first delivery set for 2007.
The AEW&C Wedgetail aircraft is compatible and interoperable with the E-3 and 767 AWACS Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft already in use by the US and NATO. Wedgetail (so called because of the shape of the rear end of the aircraft, where new electronic gear is installed) involves a core design of the 737 AEW&C system including the 737-700 Increased Gross Weight Aircraft, plus the MESA radar. The crew consists of two pilots and 6-10 equipment operators. The aircraft can stay in the air for ten hours on internal fuel, and 16 hours with inflight refueling and extra crew on board.
In addition, there are specific requirements for the Korean proposal that cant be discussed at this time. The projects dollar value is competition sensitive but a few months ago the Republic of Korea announced it was budgeting around $1.74 billion, or $435 million per aircraft. Thus comparable in cost to the current AWACS, but in a smaller, cheaper to maintain, aircraft.
Competing for this contract is the team offering four E-X Phalcon-equipped G550 aircraft (an as yet unflown unmanned G550 is being offered to US Navy for its Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Program UCAV to complement the Multimission Maritime Aircraft). The Phalcon system has been chosen by the Chilean Air Force and the Indian Air Force, the latter having taken delivery of three systems early this year, installed aboard Russian L-76 aircraft. The Peoples Republic of China had also sought Phalcon until the US pressured Israel into dropping the deal.
Included in the ROK bid are not only the radar, but electronic warfare systems, mission management system, and satellite communications capability.
Delivery of the four aircraft will be required between 2009 and 2011. The Korean E-X Program Office will make its vendor decision by the end of 2004. K.B. Sherman