The Royal Australian Air Force has deployed a Boeing E-7A Wedgetail airborne command and control aircraft to Red Flag 22-1 at Nellis AFB in Nevada.
The E-7A from 2SQN based at Williamtown arrived at Nellis on January 17, and was supported by a C-17A of 36SQN which arrived in January 20. The exercise commenced on January 24, and runs to February 11.
Red Flag 22-1 is the first of three or four major exercises held at Nellis each year, with the first exercise of the year usually involving just US, UK, Canadian, and Australian participants. The other Red Flag Nellis exercises each year include NATO and other allied forces, and in the past have also included non-aligned nations such as India and Colombia.
Red Flag exercises are also regularly conducted in Alaska from Eielson AFB and JB Elmendorf and, as these focus primarily on the Pacific region, regularly include participants from Japan, South Korea, and Australia.
Reg Flag 22-1 is the first major exercise the E-7A has participated in since Boeing last October publicly disclosed the USAF has expressed an official interest in possibly acquiring the aircraft, and the USAF published a notice to study replacements for its ageing Boeing 707-based E-3 AWACS force.
The October 19 notice published on the official SAM.gov contracting website described its goal as being to, “Study and analyse activities related to the current E-7A baseline configuration, and determine what additional work the (US) Government might need to accomplish meeting USAF configuration standards and mandates.”
With the arrival of the E-7A at Red Flag 22-1, the USAF has publicly expressed its desire to study the aircraft’s capabilities during the high-end exercise.
“It’s a really fantastic opportunity to get to integrate and work closely with our key ally on what we all know is a critical and essential capability for the pacing challenges that we face in the Indo-Pacific theatre, especially, but in other theatres as well,” commander of the USAF’s Air Warfare Center, Maj Gen Case Cunningham told Air Force Magazine, adding that the exercise gave the USAF an opportunity to, “really refine the tactics, techniques, and procedures that it means to work with F-35s and F-22s, for example, in the highly contested environment, as they work in collaboration with the E-7A.”
The USAF’s Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) has particularly shown an interest in acquiring the E-7A, with the aircraft regularly deploying Red Flag Alaska, to Guam for Cope North exercises, and working with PACAF on operations in the region. Both the Chief of Staff of the USAF and the PACAF commander have lauded the aircraft’s capabilities, and have emphasised that, because it’s a proven in-service platform, it can be acquired with low risk and relatively quickly.
In November, Boeing officials told media at the Dubai Airshow that the company expects the USAF will order the E-7A in 2022. “I’m very confident that the Air Force is choosing the E-7 to replace its E-3 fleet,” Mike Manazir, Boeing’s vice president for defense business development, said in a news conference. “I believe they’ll be announcing sometime in 2022 that they’re going to move forward on the E-7. I think we’re going to be able to capitalise with all of our allies and bring that great capability to the USAF.”
The RAAF was the first operator of the E-7A, and the aircraft has also been acquired by South Korea and Turkey. The UK’s RAF has also ordered three E-7As to replace its E-3D AWACS which were retired in 2021.