I am pleased to inform the House today that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) has begun discussions with Boeing about the potential for the E-7 Advanced Early Warning and Control ‘Wedgetail’ aircraft to replace the current Sentry fleet.
Since the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the MOD has undertaken significant work to understand the best way to invest in and improve the RAF’s airborne warning and control capability. As part of that work, we have considered the defence requirement and rapidly evolving threat environment, conducted market analysis, and held discussions with our close allies, so we could fully understand the options available to us.
It has become increasingly apparent that an upgrade to the existing UK E-3 Sentry aircraft will not offer best value in meeting the UK’s capability requirement. As such, the E-7 Wedgetail, which has been proven on operations and is already in use by the Royal Australian Air Force, is likely to be the best option to provide ‘eyes in the sky’ surveillance for UK forces.
The MOD is now taking forward single source discussions with Boeing. This does not, however, represent a final decision; any purchase will be subject to the MOD’s usual acquisition approval processes.
As discussions are still at a very early stage, it would not be appropriate to provide detailed information on the industrial and economic impact that a final procurement decision could have. The MOD understands, however, that Boeing is in discussions with a number of UK suppliers and is expecting to make significant use of the UK supply chain to undertake the conversion and through-life support of these UK aircraft.
The decision to begin single source engagement with Boeing has only been taken after a full consideration of potential options in the market, balanced with a pressing capability need. While the UK remains committed to the principle of open competition to fulfil defence requirements, in this instance, the potential procurement of E-7 represents the lowest risk and is likely to offer best value for money for the UK. It will also provide our Armed Forces with a highly-effective, world-leading capability.