NATO AWACS aircraft are being upgraded with glass cockpits

The old 'legacy cockpit' is shown on the left while the modernized 'glass cockpit' is shown on the right.
Aug 11, 2014
To meet current and future Communication, Navigation, Surveillance / Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) airspace requirements, NATO’s E-3A (NE-3A) aircraft are being upgraded with glass cockpits and other advanced avionics.

The NE-3A fleet is going to be modernized to ensure compliance with current requirements and provides the requisites for future air traffic control and navigation conditions as well as giving the aircraft broader access to airspace around the world. Additionally, the upgrade reduces the cockpit crew to two pilots and a flight engineer and solves the challenge of finding out-of-production avionics for the fleet by utilizing available commercial-off-the-shelf digital avionics.

"I’m out there every day saying this modification is important and that we’re going to make it, we’re going to make it on time, and it’s going to work when we deliver it,” said Maj. Gen. Andrew M. Mueller, E-3A Component commander.

The first NE-3A to undergo this modification arrived at Boeing Field in Seattle, Washington, on Aug. 1, 2013. Flight testing will begin at the end of 2014 with delivery of the first modernized aircraft scheduled for January 2016. The entire modification contract will be completed by the end of 2018.

To ensure concurrency with the upgrades being performed on NATO’s E-3A fleet, a major modernization effort to the NE-3A flight deck simulator and NE-3A flight training device located at NATO Airbase Geilenkirchen in Germany will be performed as well.

Since the mid 1980’s NATO operates a fleet of NE-3A 'Sentry' Airborne Warning & Control System (AWACS) aircraft, which provide the Alliance with an immediately available airborne command and control (C2), air and maritime surveillance and battle-space management capability.

The NE-3A is a modified Boeing 707 equipped with long-range radar and passive sensors capable of detecting air and surface contacts over large distances. During the life time, the fleet received major modernization programmes, mostly related to the mission system. This additional modernization programme with main emphasis on digital flight deck and avionics was recently initiated by the NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control Programme Management Organization (NAPMO).

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