A NATO E-3 Awacs at its Geilenkirchen base (Image © Elmer van Hest)

NATO AWACS fleet partly upgraded, reduced flight crew

A NATO E-3 Awacs at its Geilenkirchen base (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A NATO E-3 Awacs at its Geilenkirchen base (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Boeing will upgrade the flight decks of 13 of the 17 E-3 Sentry aircraft of NATO for about US$ 250 million, the American company announced on 6 August 2014. The number of aircraft is fuel to a discussion about NATO axing part of its Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, which are based on the Boeing 707 commercial airplane.

With the installation of displays and avionics the E-3s will comply with modern air traffic control and navigation requirements. Boeing AWACS program manager Jon Hunsberger: “Increasing airspace access with newer systems means greater mission efficiency by saving time and fuel during operations. The improvements also provide the pilot and co-pilot user-friendly and customizable engine, navigation and radar data.”

Additionally, the upgrade will result in a cost savings in personnel because the flight deck crew will be reduced from four to three. It also solves the challenge of finding out-of-production avionics for the AWACS fleet by utilizing readily available commercial-off-the-shelf digital avionics. The modifications begin in 2016 and will be completed by 2018.

Boeing already installed the new digital flight deck and avionics on one NATO AWACS as part of an earlier contract, with delivery scheduled for December 2015 and bringing the number of modified E-3s in 2018 to 14. Sources at Geilenkirchen Airbase in Germany, home of the NATO aircraft, already said in April this year the military alliance is considering axing three aircraft of the current strenght of 17.

Part of NATO’s E-3As fleet is almost permanently operating from other airbases than its home Geilenkirchen. The so-called E-3 Component’s standard Forward Operating Bases are Aktion in Greece, Trapani in Italy, Konya in Turkey and Ørland in Norway. Thirty multinational aircrews from 16 of NATO’s 28 nations are assigned to the Component’s three operational E-3A squadrons.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger, including source information of Boeing and NATO

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The new flight deck of the Boeing E-3 Sentry of NATO (Image © Boeing)
The new flight deck of the Boeing E-3 Sentry of NATO (Image © Boeing)