It was reported on Tuesday, March 19 that Australia was withdrawing a surveillance aircraft that has been providing oversight for the protection of deliveries of humanitarian and military aid to Ukraine. Contrary to some suggestions in the media, this is not the result of Canberra scaling back on its support to Kyiv but is simply the completion of the originally agreed mission.

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) E-7A Wedgetail, which is based on a Boeing 737-700 airframe, was deployed at the request of the US to assist in monitoring threats to supply routes for aid destined for Ukraine since October. It is based at the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

This Wedgetail is one of six such aircraft operated by the RAAF’s No. 2 Squadron. The aircraft is billed as one of the world’s most advanced airspace battle management platforms, able to coordinate all elements of a joint air, sea and land battle in real-time.

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Simultaneous tracking of airborne and maritime targets is made possible through the recent addition of the Northrop Grumman Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) radar along with 10 state-of-the-art mission crew consoles.

The Wedgetail combines long-range radar surveillance, secondary radar tracking, tactical/strategic voice and data communications systems monitoring while providing airborne battlespace coverage of more than four million square kilometers.

Asked about any Australian involvement in targeting of Russian military or naval assets in Ukraine or the Black Sea, an Australian Defence Forces (ADF) spokesperson told the Guardian that the Wedgetail “operates outside of Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian airspace. It is not providing surveillance assistance to Ukraine.”

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He was at pains to point out that the Wedgetail’s mission was simply to provide “early warning in the unlikely event of an act or threat from Russia, outside of Ukraine, against the gateway of humanitarian and military assistance.”

Asked whether there was any intention to extend deployment beyond the current April deadline, the ADF spokesperson said, “Any future requests for support from Australia’s international partners would be considered in the usual way.” The ADF official suggested that there would be no gap as the role would be filled by other Western monitoring assets.

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Australia’s Foreign Minister, Penny Wong announced a further A$50 million ($33 million) grant to the UK-administered International Fund for Ukraine at the end of February. This brought Australia’s total overall support to Ukraine to A$960 million ($632.2 million), from which about A$780 million ($513.7 million) was in military aid.

NATO announced in November that it will replace its existing 14 aircraft Boeing E-3A Sentry AWACS fleet with Boeing E-7A Wedgetails. Six aircraft will be acquired to begin operations out of Geilenkirchen NATO Air Base in Germany with a target date of 2031.

The UK is in the process of purchasing three Wedgetail aircraft and Turkey currently operates four Peace Eagle E-7As. Additionally, it is believed that the US is likely to replace its aging fleet of 26 E-3G Sentry AWACS aircraft with the Wedgetail.

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Comments (2)

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Michael
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As an Australian (with an Australian-born wife whose family are Ukrainian immigrants, refugees from WW2), I am embarrassed by the flimsiness of my nation's contributions to Ukraine's defence in the nearly 2 years since the first flush of generosity in the northern Spring of 2022. The 0.04% of GDP figure for Australia's total bilateral aid to Ukraine is accurate, and places us at a mere 31st in in the world in terms of us pulling our weight and contributing our fair share in proportion to the size of our economy. I am especially aghast at our Government's recent decision to spend $2 billion destroying 45 decommissioned Taipan helicopters, collectively worth nearly $1 billion on the second hand market, rather than offer them to a Ukrainian government which has explicitly requested them.

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John
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As a fellow commonwealth country, I wish Australia would follow the UKs lead and provide more aid to Ukraine. Even if only providing some of the equipment they plan on scrapping anyways that Ukraine has none-the less requested for lack of better options.

At present Austria contributes only 0.04% of its GDP to Ukraine, compared with the UKs .57% and Canada and the USA's tied 0.32% GDP.

The top 30 Ukraine supporters on a % GDP basis are all in Europe. 2 are contributing over 4% of their GDP, 5 over 2%. These countries best know the threat a Russian victory in Ukraine would pose.

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