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NATO has awarded Boeing a $1 billion (€907 million) contract to modernise its fleet of E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft, ensuring they will continue to support NATO missions until 2035.

The 27 November signing ceremony in Brussels was attended by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Sir Michael Arthur, President of Boeing International. Mr Stoltenberg told the media that the AWACs modernisation is “one example of how NATO is modernising its operational capabilities,” and reaffirmed NATO’s commitment to have plans, political will and operational capabilities in place to protect all member states. Sixteen of the allies who provide aircrews for AWACS will contribute to funding this modernisation programme. Mr Stoltenberg also confirmed that the first NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) aircraft arrived at Sigonella, Italy on 21 November.

Upgrades for the E-3A fleet include new communications and networking capabilities, such as enhancements to the aircraft's data link and voice communications, as well as improvements to its wide-band beyond-line-of-sight airborne networking capability. NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen in Germany is home to all 14 AWACS aircraft, which represent the only major military equipment collectively owned by the Alliance, with the exception of the incoming RQ-4D unmanned aerial system (UAS).

The AWACS contract is one element of an initiative to upgrade NATO's surveillance capabilities, another being procurement if the five Northrop Grumman UAS mentioned above. Based on the RQ-4D Block 40 GLOBAL HAWK, their procurement is part of NATO’s AGS programme. Initial operational capability is scheduled for the first half of 2020. NATO planners will use the UAS for surveillance of ground troops and civilian populations, border and maritime patrol and counter-terrorism operations, as well as crisis management and humanitarian assistance for natural disasters.

Dr Theodor Benien

AWACS aircraft normally fly at 10,000m altitude and can detect low-flying targets at ranges of 400km and medium altitude targets at up to 520km. (Photo: NATO)

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