Home Air Northrop starting production of MESA sensor for USAF E-7 aircraft

Northrop starting production of MESA sensor for USAF E-7 aircraft

A U.S. Air Force E-7 equipped with the Northrop Grumman MESA sensor. Photo: Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman Corporation has announced that it will begin work on the Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array (MESA) sensor for the US Air Force new E-7 Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) aircraft.

The MESA sensor, which is an integral component of the E-7 weapons system, will equip the US Air Force with new capabilities such as long-range sensing, detection, and identification.

The US Air Force expects to receive the first aircraft developed under a rapid prototype program in fiscal year 2027. Earlier this month, Boeing received a $1.2 billion contract to begin development of two new US variants of the E-7 aircraft.

Based on a Boeing 737-700 series aircraft, with the addition of the MESA radar, and 10 mission crew consoles which can track airborne and maritime targets simultaneously, the aircraft combines long-range surveillance radar, secondary radar and tactical/strategic voice and data communications systems.

MESA equips mission crews with the tools to track airborne and maritime targets and to maintain continuous surveillance of the operational area, making it an advanced Airborne Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) sensor. As a result, the MESA radar system, which is part of the AEW&C system, has a role in providing domain awareness to warfighters, enabling them to make accelerated and informed decisions to meet their mission objectives effectively.

With MESA, operators can concentrate on critical missions while also having the ability to revisit targets with greater accuracy and provide important information to enable timely Battle Management Command and Control decisions. Additionally, this radar technology can expand its detection range without having to fly closer to a potential threat.

MESA is currently being produced and deployed globally, providing situational awareness with a 360-degree view and the flexibility to adjust to different missions and environmental conditions. The E-7 system has already been deployed by Australia, Turkey, and South Korea, and the production of the United Kingdom E-7 AEW&C fleet is currently in progress.

“The multifunction MESA sensor will provide the US Air Force with critical multi-domain awareness to enable decision superiority for the range of mission requirements today and into the future,” said Ed Griebel, Northrop Grumman vice president of airborne surveillance programs “As we fulfill our promise to the Air Force to rapidly bring unmatched, decisive air battle management sensing capabilities including long-range first detect and first engagement in the battlespace, we look forward to enabling global allied interoperability in partnership with Boeing.”

Northrop Grumman’s MESA system is equipped with an IFF (identification friend or foe) system, which has recently obtained AIMS certification for a new Mode 5. This certification enhances the system’s ability to safeguard warfighters by utilizing waveforms, cryptology, and techniques to improve the already-proven performance of MESA and its IFF system. The IFF system determines whether an incoming signal is friendly or hostile.