NATO is to upgrade its ageing fleet of E-3 AWACS aircraft at a cost of $1 billion, the Alliance announced on Wednesday.
“I can confirm we will sign a contract upgrading, modernising the AWACS fleet, $1 billion dollars” Jens Stoltenberg told reporters at a meeting in Brussels.
The upgrades will take the fleet through to 2035, but the decision on what will replace the aging aircraft has not yet been made.
NATO has fourteen E-3A AWACS aircraft, which are modified Boeing 707s, easily identifiable from the distinctive radar dome mounted on the fuselage.
The E-3A usually operates at an altitude of around 10 km. 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.
“We are also now looking how to replace the AWACS fleet in the future after 2035”, Alliance chief Stoltenberg also said.
Earlier in the year we reported that NATO may replace its E-3 Sentry aircraft with new E-7 Wedgetail aircraft. Michael Gschossmann of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation agency that manages the AWACS fleet, had told Reuters here that expected to finalise by December a $750 million contract with Boeing to extend the life of the E-3 aircraft through to 2035. With this news, he has now done so.
The important point however is that Gschossmann also said it was critical to decide quickly how to replace the 1979/1980-era aircraft or NATO would need to take costly steps to keep them flying even longer.
Gschossmann advised that NATO could follow the lead of member states Britain and Turkey in purchasing the E-7. Those aircraft, he said, were large enough to add potential new capabilities, such as operating drones for expanded surveillance, in coming years.
The E-7 is based on the Boeing 737-700 with the addition of an advanced Multi-Role Electronically Scanned Array radar.
“Why don’t we bet on the proven technology that we already have in the E-7 and provide NATO with a certain number of those aircraft? That would give us a basic capability that could be expanded in the future,” he said.