NATO Signs $1 Billion Contract with Boeing to Modernize AWACS Aircraft Fleet

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) signed a $1 billion contract with Boeing to modernize the alliance’s fleet of AWACS surveillance aircraft.

The contract was inked by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of Boeing International, Sir Michael Arthur, during a ceremony at Melsbroek Airport in Brussels on Nov. 27.

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“NATO AWACS have been our eyes in the sky, supporting our operations for decades, from patrolling American skies after 9/11, to our operations in Afghanistan, and as part of the Global Coalition against ISIS,” said the Secretary General.

“NATO AWACS is a symbol of trans-Atlantic excellence, in terms of technology and partnership between Boeing, NATO and Europe. This modernisation programme will ensure the aircraft continue to thrive,” noted Sir Michael Arthur.

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 modernization, and companies from Europe and North America are working together to provide high-tech capabilities. The modernization will ensure that NATO’s AWACS fleet continue to support the Alliance’s missions to 2035.

The Secretary General underlined that NATO continues to adapt, and is already planning for the replacement of the AWACS in 2035. “NATO will work closely with industry. We will consider how technologies – like artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and big data – can help NATO keep its edge,” he said.

He added that NATO is an important platform, where Allies can join forces and invest in new capabilities for shared security. “We will continue to modernise and adapt our Alliance, both now and in the future,” he added.

NATO AWACS Aircraft Fleet

NATO’s AWACS fleet consists of 14 Boeing E-3A airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft. These modified Boeing 707s are easily identifiable from the distinctive radar dome mounted on the fuselage.

The NATO E-3A fleet is based at NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen in Germany.

The E-3A usually operates at an altitude of around 10 km and, from this altitude, a single E-3A can constantly monitor the airspace within a radius of more than 400 km and can exchange information – via digital data links – with ground-based, sea-based and airborne commanders. By using Pulse-Doppler radar, an E-3A flying within NATO airspace can distinguish between targets and ground reflections and is, therefore, able to give early warning of low- or high-flying aircraft operating over the territory of a potential aggressor.

All of NATO’s E-3A aircraft were modernized with avionics and a digital cockpit by Boeing with the last aircraft delivered in the 2018 end. Upgrades included five full-colour digital displays in each aircraft, replacing 1970’s-era dials and provides crewmembers with customizable engine, navigation, and radar data.

The roles of NATO’s E-3A Component are:

+ Airborne Early Warning & Control: Airspace surveillance and early detection of airborne threats.
+ Command & control: Command and control of military air units during operations and exercises.
+ Fighter control: Control of combat aircraft during operations and exercises.
+ SAR support: Coordination of Search and Rescue operations.
+ Airspace control: Control and coordination of airspace and the aircraft present within it.
+ Missile defence: Control of ground-based airspace defence units.
+ Support of maritime operations: Establishing and providing a radar picture of ongoing activities within a maritime area.

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