NATO has retired into storage its second Boeing E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group announced on 13 December.
The aircraft joins another NATO E-3A that was retired to the ‘boneyard’ at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (AFB) in Arizona in June 2015, leaving the alliance with a fleet of 15 AWACS flying out of Geilenkirchen in western Germany. These retirements have taken place due to budgetary pressures on the E-3A Component force, with a third and final platform set to arrive at Davis-Monthan AFB in the coming months.
Since it was founded in 1982, the NATO E-3A Component has been at the forefront of the alliance’s many and varied military, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), and civil support missions. With 18 Boeing E-3A aircraft (one was lost in an accident in 1995), the component has supported military operations in Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iraq, Libya, the Mediterranean, Syria, and Turkey. It also has supported global HADR operations, as well as various missions safeguarding major high-profile public events throughout mainland Europe.
The remaining 14 E-3A aircraft are being put through a Global Air Traffic Management (GATM) upgrade to keep them in service through to their eventual retirement date of 2035. Based on a modified Boeing 707/320 commercial airframe, the E-3 is built around a 9.1 m-diameter rotating radome that sits atop the fuselage. This radar has a range of more than 400 km (which equates to a coverage area of more than 500,000 km 2 of airspace) to look down and detect, identify, and track low-flying aircraft over land or water.
Earlier in 2017, NATO announced that it had begun looking at options for the provision of early warning and control after it completely retires the E-3A fleet in about 20 years’ time.
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