"Flexibility, responsiveness, and excellence are the hallmarks of the NATO Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) Force, and are the reason we continue to be an outstanding example of NATO capability and unity, and of what the now 30 NATO Nations can achieve when working together," said the Force Commander, Major General Jӧrg Lebert. The NATO AWACS team from NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen, Germany, were operating from their Norwegian Forward Operating Location (FOL) Orland, providing Air Battle Management and Surveillance support to confirm NATO's capability and operational readiness to operate under harsh arctic conditions during exercise Cold Response 20.
When Norway cancelled the exercise over coronavirus concerns, the deployed AWACS crews and maintainers from Geilenkirchen were preparing to return to their Main Operating Base in Geilenkirchen. However, as the COVID-19 crisis developed, plans were made to delay their return, making use of the facilities provided at one of its four Forward Bases. "This decision proved to be a good one, as an increase in the need for Air Policing capability in the northern NATO area required the deployed crews to quickly switch from their training mode in order to fly real-world operations," said the Deployment Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Bengt Bergan, Royal Norwegian Air Force. "Demonstrating the significant role NATO AWACS plays in the deterrence and defence of SACEUR's Area of Operations, the Geilenkirchen team, together with the host nation's FOL personnel, were immediately available to support operational tasks as two combat-ready multi-national crews and two combat-ready NATO AWACS aircraft were launched to support Allied Air Command tasks," he added.
Demonstrating the significant role of NATO AWACS in deterrence and defence, the whole team was immediately available to support operational tasks
One example of the NATO AWACS support to real-world operations was their involvement in an intercept conducted by Allied fighter assets over the North Atlantic on March 12, 2020. While NATO's Combined Air Operation Centre at Uedem, Germany, ordered Norwegian Air Force and Royal Air Force fighters to launch and intercept Russian aircraft, a NATO AWACS from the FOL at Orland assisted by providing extended air surveillance and control capability from an orbit off the Norwegian coast.
"In addition to keeping the missions going, FOL Orland went above and beyond expectations," said Lieutenant Colonel Bergan. "Our people became resourceful as they started asking how they could keep the operational health strong across the Component, despite being geographically separated. Classes usually taught in Geilenkirchen only were now given in Orland to ensure crew members' mission readiness," added Lieutenant Colonel Bergan. "Our maintenance team performed life support inspections - also typically only done at Geilenkirchen - to extend aircraft endurance for another thirty days, reducing the workload for Component personnel at home and the requirement for shipment of spare parts," he concluded.
"I am very proud of the quick and effective response by the personnel deployed to Orland. They demonstrated that we are still more than able to react at short notice to deliver key NATO Assurance and Deterrence tasks, regardless of the COVID-19 crisis," said General Lebert. "Specifically, we demonstrated our continued readiness to rapidly enhance NATO's Air Battle Management and Surveillance capability wherever and whenever required. This is also not just a demonstration of the flexibility and responsiveness of the Force, but an excellent example of the outstanding support we receive from all NATO Nations – in this case especially Norway," he added.