[Video]: E-3A AWACS NATO explained

NATO has signed a $1 billion contract to modernise the E-3A AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) fleet, ensuring that it will continue to support the Alliance’s missions to 2035. Often referred to as NATO’s ”eyes in the sky”, the Boeing E-3A AWACS aircraft provide the Alliance with air surveillance, airborne early warning control, command and control, battle space management and communications.

The contract with Boeing will provide NATO’s 14 AWACS aircraft with sophisticated new communications and networking capabilities. 16 NATO Allies, on both sides of the Atlantic, are funding this modernisation, and companies from Europe and North America are working together to provide high-tech capabilities.

NATO operates a fleet of Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning & Control System (AWACS) aircraft, with their distinctive radar domes mounted on the fuselage, which provide the Alliance with air surveillance, command and control, battle space management and communications. NATO Air Base (NAB) Geilenkirchen, Germany, is home to 14 AWACS aircraft. They provide support to a wide range of missions, including air policing, fighter control, airspace control, counter-terrorism, search and rescue, crisis response and maritime operations. Footage includes shots of AWACS aircraft (interior and exterior) and personnel on board AWACS aircraft.

The aircraft’s upgrades will include new communications and networking capabilities, such as enhancements to the aircraft’s data link and voice communications, as well as improvements to its wide-band beyond-line-of-sight airborne networking capability.

The NATO E-3A (or AWACS) is a modified Boeing 707 equipped with long-range radar and passive sensors capable of detecting air and surface contacts over large 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 and Control Force (NAEW&C Force) is the Alliance’s largest collaborative venture and is an example of what NATO member countries can achieve by pooling resources and working together in a truly multinational environment. The NAEW&C Force conducts a wide range of missions such as air policing, support to counter-terrorism, consequence management, non-combatant evacuation operations (NEO), embargo, initial entry, crisis response and demonstrative force operations.

The aircraft is able to track and identify potentially hostile aircraft operating at low altitudes, as well as provide fighter control of Allied aircraft. It can simultaneously track and identify maritime contacts, and provide coordination support to Allied surface forces. Under normal circumstances, the aircraft can operate for about eight hours (and longer with air-to-air refuelling) at 30,000 feet (9,150 metres).

The active surveillance sensors are located in the radar dome (“rotodome”), which makes the AWACS such a uniquely recognisable aircraft. This structure rotates once every 10 seconds and provides the AWACS aircraft with 360-degree radar coverage that can detect aircraft out to a distance of more than 215 nautical miles (400 kilometres).E-3

One aircraft flying at 30,000 feet has a surveillance area coverage of more than 120,000 square miles (310,798 square kilometres) and three aircraft operating in overlapping, coordinated orbits can provide unbroken radar coverage of the whole of Central Europe.

Multinational cooperation is the key characteristic of the NAEW&C Programme Management Organisation (NAPMO). Currently, the 16 full NAPMO nations are: Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey and the United States.

The NAEW&C Force Headquarters is co-located with NAB Geilenkirchen and exercises operational control over the Force, consisting of two operational units: the E-3A Component based at NAB Geilenkirchen, the E-3D Component based at Royal Air Force (RAF) Waddington, United Kingdom. The Force also maintains three forward-operating bases (FOBs) at Konya in Turkey, Aktion in Greece, Trapani in Italy, and a forward-operating location (FOL) at Ørland, Norway.