Aussie Wedgetails complete exercises

Nov. 10, 2011 at 6:09 AM
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CANBERRA, Australia, Nov. 10 (UPI) -- Australia said the participation of its Boeing Wedgetail aircraft in Exercise Bersama Lima was a "step forward" for the nearly $4 billion project.

The Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft "successfully participated in the Five Power Defense Arrangements Exercise Bersama Lima," Australian Minister for Defense Materiel Jason Clare said.

"This is another step forward in the $3.9 billion project, which will provide the (Australian air force) with a leading-edge surveillance aircraft. Our aircraft worked with ground, sea and air assets from Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom in a range of exercise scenarios," Clare said.

The FPDA was set up in 1971 as a commitment by the five nations to consult in the event of an attack on Singapore or Malaysia.

This year's exercise from Oct. 17-Nov. 4 involved 4,000 troops, 68 aircraft, 18 ships, two submarines and support elements from the five countries. Operations took place on the Malaysian Peninsula and in the South China Sea.

Clare said the Wedgetail performed according to expectations. The aircraft's sensors, communications suite and data links were used for maritime strike, offensive and defensive counter air operations.

Australia deployed 56 personnel with the aircraft -- two flight crews and two maintenance crews as well as support staff. Australia's contribution to the exercise also included multi-role F/A-18 Hornets, two mine-hunters and a replenishment ship.

"The exercise provided important training for our pilots, air crew and ground crew in maritime and air combat situations working closely with our Five Power partners," Clare said.

The commander of the Australian military, Brig. Chris Hamilton, said the exercise enhances the way air, ground and naval forces of the FPDA countries work together to conduct combined and joint warfare activities.

"Bersama Lima said it also explores opportunities to incorporate humanitarian Assistance and disaster relief capacity building," Hamilton said.

Introduction of the Wedgetail has dogged Boeing and Australia since late 2009 when Boeing delivered the first two of possibly six aircraft.

AEW&C Program Manager Air Vice Marshal Chris Deeble said at the time the planes, based on Boeing's 737-700 airframe and assembled and tested in Seattle, are critical to Australia's air combat capability.

"The Wedgetail aircraft is a first-of-type development and extremely complex, given the range of cutting-edge radar technology and sensors that will be incorporated into each aircraft," he said.

"Development, test and evaluation are ongoing with many hurdles still to be overcome, particularly with respect to radar, electronic support measures and integrated system performance and stability."

Boeing also delivered an operational flight trainer, mission simulator and support system in 2009.

The two-engine Wedgetail is about half the weight of the four-engine E-3 Sentry, with a rotating radar antenna as used by the U.S. military.

The Wedgetail has a fixed Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array radar located on a dorsal fin on top of the fuselage, dubbed the "top hat." The position is designed for minimal aerodynamic effect.

The MESA radar includes two side-looking arrays, as well as a top-hat array that uses "endfire" techniques to steer the radar beam forward and aft of the aircraft.

But getting the electronics to work cost Boeing more than $1 billion of extra charges as delivery dates slipped back.

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