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 (C2), air and maritime surveillance and battle-space management capability.

After significant changes to the NAEW community, the NAEW Force Command has moved to Geilenkirchen and Commander Allied Air Command (COM AIRCOM) has now Operational Control of the NATO E-3A Component.

In accordance with the mandate received by SACEUR, COM AIRCOM is responsible for the employment of the NAEW&CF in support of NATO standing missions, collective defense, High Visibility Events (HVE), and Crisis Management operations within or outside the SACEUR’s Area of Responsibility, as decided by the NAC in order to meet Alliance objectives.

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. The E-3A fleet is currently undergoing a modernisation program foreseen to be completed by 2018 to meet actual and future challenges. The E-3As have been operating from the main operating base (MOB) at Geilenkirchen, since February 1982. Forward operating bases (FOBs) are located at Trapani, Italy; Aktion, Greece; and Konya, Turkey. There is also a forward operating location (FOL) at Orland, Norway. Second is the Airborne Early Warning Number 8 Squadron 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, Operation Unified Protector was supported in order to enforce the no-fly-zone and arms embargo imposed on Libya, and to protect Libyan civilians. Today’s NATO Airborne Early Warning Force operational focus includes missions in support of the Assurance Measures and the Tailored Assurance Measures for Turkey, for the MARCOM Led Operation SEA GUARDIAN to secure the Mediterranean waters from terrorism, and finally the support to the Counter ISIL coalition. The Components also provide security support to important events like NATO summits, heads of state visits throughout Europe, and more.

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


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