NATO Airborne Early Warning

NATO operates a fleet of modified Boeing 707 Airborne Warning & Control System (AWACS) aircraft equipped with long-range radar and passive sensors capable of detecting air and surface contacts over long distances. Information collected by AWACS can be transmitted directly from the aircraft to other users on land, at sea or in the air. The NATO Airborne Early Warning Force provides the Alliance with an immediately available airborne command and control, air and maritime surveillance and battle-space management capability.

After significant changes to the NATO Airborne Early Warning community, the NAEW Force Command has moved to Geilenkirchen and Commander Allied Air Command has been assigned Operational Control of the NATO E-3A Component.

In accordance with the mandate received by Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), Commander Allied Air Command is responsible for the employment of the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force in support of NATO standing missions, collective defence, High Visibility Events, and Crisis Management operations within or outside the SACEUR’s Area of Responsibility, as decided by the North Atlantic Council in order to meet Alliance objectives.

NATO's NAEW&CF is the Alliance's largest collaborative venture, exemplifying NATO's ability to facilitate multinational cooperation and to exploit the benefits of pooling resources.  NAEW&CF consists of two elements called Components. First is the multinational NATO E-3A Component at Geilenkirchen, Germany, who operate the Boeing NATO E-3A aircraft. The NATO E-3A squadrons are manned by integrated international crews from 16 nations and are currently undergoing a modernisation program to meet current and future challenges, forecast to be completed by 2018.  The E-3As have been operating from the Main Operating Base at Geilenkirchen, since February 1982 and from Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) at Trapani, Italy; Aktion, Greece; and Konya, Turkey. Additionally, there is also a Forward Operating Location at Orland, Norway. The second component is the Airborne Early Warning squadron (8 Sqn) of the Royal Air Force (RAF), with 6 Boeing E-3D aircraft. The E-3D Component is manned only by RAF personnel and its Main Operating Base is RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, GBR.

  NATO AWACS takes off from Forward Operating Location Ørland in Norway during Arctic Challenge 2015 - Photo courtesy of NATO E-3A Component Public Affairs Office

The Components have been called on to support a wide range of operations. For example, at the end of 2009, NATO AWACS began to assist in NATO’s Operation Active Endeavour, a continuous operation monitoring the Mediterranean Sea for terrorism and piracy. At the start of 2011, NATO AWACS began Operation Afghan Assist, flying missions over Afghanistan in Support of ISAF operations. Shortly afterwards, support to Operation Unified Protector helped to enforce the no-fly-zone and arms embargo imposed on Libya, contributing to the overall air picture to make the airspace safer, thus protecting Libyan civilians. Today, NATO AWACS fly surveillance missions in support of assurance measures following the Russian-Ukraine crisis, tailored assurance measures for Turkey following the Syrian crisis and for the Allied Maritime Command Led Operation SEA GUARDIAN to secure the Mediterranean waters from terrorism. 

The latest NATO contribution to the Global Coalition to Counter-ISIL, NATO AWACS operate within NATO borders and, if required international airspace, to provide surveillance and situational awareness.  This contribution clearly demonstrates NATO's resolve to tackle terrorism and the security challenges emanating from the south.  The Components also provide security support to important events like NATO summits and heads of state visits throughout Europe.

To learn more about the NATO E-3A Component, visit their website.


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