Modified 737s Over 28 Months Late
Boeing has suffered a series of
embarrassing delays in developing some of its civilian aircraft.
But Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is not immune from
In 1997, Australia made the commitment to Project Wedgetail,
involving procurement of at least four of Boeing's 737-700 Airborne
Early Warning & Control E-7A, Multi-role Electronically Scanned
Array RADAR Antenna surveillance aircraft. Military officials down
under had no idea
their wait for the aircraft would end up being even longer
than its name.
The plane's claim to fame is its extremely versatile,
electronically-scanned radar antenna array. The system, built by
Northrup Grumman, allows conducting several types of search and
control functions simultaneously. The plane is a modified 737
capable of as many as 12 operating positions inside. Australia has
ordered its planes equipped with ten operating positions.
If you'd expect that multitasking capability to be a
systems-integration nightmare, you'd be right. Australia was to get
its first plane in 2006, and Boeing insisted it was on schedule.
But in June of that year, the Australian government announced that
the company was admitting development had fallen behind by 18
That estimate proved optimistic, and the company now projects
delivering the first plane a year from now, and mission readiness
sometime in 2010, more than 28 months late. So, is Boeing at risk
of losing the order?
The Australian reports that throughout the ordeal, Australia has
not only stuck with the Wedgetail, but taken advantage of options
for two more, beyond the four originally ordered, for a total
outlay of four-billion dollars. Defence Procurement Secretary Greg
Combet told the Australian Command and Staff College that while the
Wedgetail is on the government's "Projects of Concern" watchlist,
there are no plans to cancel it.
"Just last week there was a summit held in Canberra where we
discussed how we are going to move things forward," he said. "I am
pleased to say progress was made in those discussions but there is
much more work to be done yet."
Then he added, "This is probably the project that keeps me awake
the most at night."