NATO to Modernize its AWACS Surveillance Aircraft Fleet

NATO plans to spend $1 billion to modernize its AWACS surveillance aircraft fleet, according to Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

NATO’s AWACS fleet consists of fourteen 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-color 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.

Technical specifications of E-3A aircraft

Prime contractor: Boeing Aerospace Co., Seattle, Washington, United States.
Aircraft Dimensions: Wingspan: 44.45 m, Length: 46.68 m, Height: 12.70 m
Rotodome Dimensions/Specs: Diameter: 9.1 m, Thickness: 1.8 m, Height: 3.35 m / 11 ft.
Rotodome Rotation: once every 10 seconds.
Radar coverage: One E-3A flying at 30,000 ft / 9,150 m has over 312,000 km² in its field of view. Three E-3As in overlapping orbits can provide complete coverage of Central Europe. An E-3A can detect low flying targets within 400 km or 215 nautical miles; and at medium altitude targets within 520 km or 280 nautical miles.
Power plant: Four TF-33 Pratt & Whitney 100A turbofan engines.
Speed: More than 800 km / 500 miles per hour
Operational altitude: Above 9,150 m / 30,000 ft
Maximum take-off weight: 147,429 kg / 325,000 lbs
Fuel capacity: 89,610 liters / 70,371 kg or 22,768 gallons / 148,000 lbs
Endurance: More than 10 hours (unrefueled). All air-refuelable.


Flight crew
2 Pilots
1 Flight Engineer

Mission crew (Total number can vary for a specific mission)
1 Tactical Director
1 Fighter Allocator
2 Weapons Controllers
1 Surveillance Controller
3 Surveillance Operators
1 Passive Controller
1 Communications Technician
1 Radar Technician
1 System Technician

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