Search our content

Home  /  Operations  /  Past operations

Past operations


1990-1991 Operation Anchor Guard

Operation Anchor Guard was the first and most demanding ‘real world’ test of the E-3A Component’s mission capability. In 1990 the Gulf crisis brought the world into a serious military confrontation, and on 9 August 1990 Operation Anchor Guard launched its first mission. Squadron One were the first to head south to one of the Component’s Forward Operating Bases. For the next eight months those bases were ‘invaded’ by a much larger than normal number of people to support and maintain equipment and to prepare and operate the aircraft.

The Gulf Crisis was characterized by massive media coverage and at that time the Public Information Office (PIO) received numerous phone calls from local citizens as well as local news agencies asking, "What are you doing in the Gulf area?” The question was relevant, since the Gulf area is beyond NATO’s boundaries. But Turkey, which has a common border with Iraq, could have been threatened, and NATO therefore increased its surveillance in this area by deploying the E-3A. The Component’s mission was strictly to observe and not to become actively involved.

Operation Anchor Guard was a huge challenge for the dedicated crews deployed to the Southern Region. They were deployed for 12-14 days, back home for 4-5 days and then deployed again. They flew almost every day, with flights of ten and twelve hours being the norm. There were also many other, often less well-known offices back at the E-3A Component were involved in ensuring that the primary mission of flying was accomplished. They performed tasks such as monetary exchange into Turkish Lira, taking care of hotel accommodation, making arrangements for cleaning and linen exchange, procuring fruit and vegetables, preparing flight meals, and much more. Every task was a prime example showing that each and every person at the E-3A Component is a necessary part of the overall team effort. ”Since this was the first ‘real’ operation, nobody knew what to expect. It was like a test of what we had been training for. Especially the first month there was a feeling of uncertainty. We flew in an orbit north of the Iraqi border and the intelligence briefing mentioned more than 700 Iraqi fighters, including MiG- 29 Fulcrum, SU-24 Fencer and Mirage F-1, and you must remember that at that time we flew without the Electronic Support Measures (ESM) system. We had our NBC equipment next to us on the ground and when flying, and when we were off base in Turkey we had police escorts,” says one of the experienced crewmembers who was flying during Operation Anchor Guard.He continues, "In the beginning the mission was mainly air surveillance over Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea, where the coalition were building up for the intervention. After 17 January 1991, when Operation Desert Storm was launched, the mission changed to broader air defence, including combat air patrols to protect Turkey. After the first couple of weeks with hardly any resistance the initial concern went away. It was good to see that the training we did at the Component worked out so well in a real operation.

The teamwork was just awesome and everybody was working hard. Lessons learned from Anchor Guard laid the foundation for future operations.

Operation Anchor Guard came to an end on the afternoon of 16 March 1991, as the last of three E-3As with Squadron One aircrews returned home. Between 9 August 1990 and 16 March 1991 the Component flew a total of 1129 missions and 8581.8 hours in support of Anchor Guard.
The TCA, too, played a key role in Anchor Guard, being described as the Component’s ‘work-horse’. Since the acquisition of the TCAs in 1988 the Component had become more independent, and for Anchor Guard the TCAs were immediately available, meeting transport requests day and night seven days a week.
The total number of passengers from the Component, NAEWFC, FOB/L and SHAPE during Operation Anchor Guard amounted to 5527 people, and the overall weight of cargo came to approximately 450 tons. The TCA flew more than 640 hours on 192 flights for Anchor Guard alone.
"These figures are impressive. They tell an important story of sacrifice, hard work and dedication that the men and women at the Component, the FOBs and FOL can be proud of,” said Brig.Gen. Jay D. Blume Jr, E-3A Component Commander at that time. "NATO has indicated that the way of the future in the Alliance is more mobile, flexible, and multi-national forces. They need only look at their own E-3A Component as a unique example.”

2003 Operation Crescent Guard        

In February 2003, the NATO Defence Planning Committee decided to support the defence of Turkey’s territorial integrity within the framework of Article 4 of the Washington Treaty. This authorizes any NATO member to request military assistance in the event that it feels its territorial integrity is threatened by situations in non NATO countries. This was the first time in the Alliance’s history that Article 4 was invoked. Component E-3As, TCAs, crews and support personnel deployed to the Forward Operation Base (FOB) Konya in Turkey to integrate into the NATO integrated air defence systems. Their mission was to provide airspace surveillance and early warning to help protect Turkey’s territorial integrity.

On 24 February 2003 the first TCA took off from the E-3A Component, heading for FOB Konya and transporting supplies and various personnel in preparation for the deployment of AWACS aircraft. On 26 February the first surveillance mission was conducted, only five days after the Component received its final orders to deploy to Konya. Operation Crescent Guard had begun.

The deployed crews were flying a fairly demanding schedule with no time for days off. Maintenance and support personnel devoted all their energies to the task of keeping the flying schedule on track. The current force-protection situation required all deployed Component members to be restricted to the base when they were not flying. 

That resulted in various initiatives at FOB Konya, particularly within the area of Morale and Welfare Activities, with the overall aim of improving everyday living. "The missions were fairly quiet,” said one of the experienced crewmembers who flew during Operation Crescent Guard, and he continued "But in this situation, quiet was a very good thing. It was important, I think, for us to be there to support Turkey in those uncertain times. That’s what being part of NATO is all about, isn’t it?” Operation Crescent Guard ended on 17 April 2007 after more than 100 missions and 950 flying hours.


1992 Operation Agile Genie

In April 1992 the UN Security Council approved UN Resolution 748 imposing sanctions designed to induce Libya to surrender the suspects of the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing in 1988. This terrorist bombing caused the Pan Am to crash near Lockerbie in Scotland, killing 259 passengers and 11 people on the ground.

In response to the United Nations air embargo imposed on Libya, NATO AWACS were tasked to establish two separate orbits monitoring Central Mediterranean airspace. The primary mission was air and surface surveillance. NATO AWACS flew a total of 36 missions in support of the embargo, with a total of 336 flying hours during May 1992.

2011 Operation Unified Protector

On 23 March 2011 Operation Unified Protector was launched to enforce the no-fly-zone and arms embargo imposed on Libya, and to protect Libyan civilians. From the deployed location Forward Operating Base Trapani, Sicily, the E-3A and E-3D platforms ensured Command, Control and Communication for other air assets as well as for ships in the Mediterranean and thereby demonstrated the unique capabilities of NATO AWACS. OUP was a joint effort between air and maritime forces, and the E-3A and E-3D perfectly supported this mission. The AWACS flew in 222 days a total of 247 missions and more than 2,120 hours in support of OUP. The last OUP mission was flown on 31 October 2011. The E-3A and E-3D Component contributed to what NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has called one of the most successful operations in NATO history.



Without doubt the most comprehensive operation in NATO AWACS' past was the operations in the former Yugoslavia. After the political decision was made and the E-3A Component was called upon, the first mission supporting the United Nations peacekeeping efforts in the former Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) took place on 16 July 1992. At that time nobody could have envisioned the E-3A Component’s degree or length of involvement in that conflict.

The Component’s involvement in this task continued for 12 years. Besides the E-3A involvement, the E-3D Component was also involved untill 1999. During these period the E-3A and E-3D orchestrated hundreds of combat aircraft in and out of the war zone, directed pilots to dozens of air-to-air refuelling tankers, monitored enemy radar. All of this involved around the clock flying and constant deployments. The crewmembers had a continuously heavy workload with missions that lasted anywhere from 12 to 15 hours.

The operations in FRY came to an end in December 2004. Between 16 July 1992 and December 2004, the Component flew a total of 10,667 mission in support of the operations in the Balkan Region. Looking back in news archives show one thing in common: lots of praise and appreciative statements about the professionalism and high standard of performance displayed by the E-3A  and E-3D Component in performing its missions in the Balkans to uphold the United Nations’ resolutions relating to FRY. 


2001-2002: Operation Eagle Assist

When tragedy struck the USA on September 11, 2001, NATO invoked the collective defence clause of its fundamental treaty, making this the first time in NATO’s history that Alliance assets were deployed in support of Article 5 operations. Article 5 of the Washington Treaty states that an attack on any of the nations is an attack on the entire Alliance. The impossible became reality: nobody ever expected to send NATO troops westwards across the Atlantic for this purpose. Within one hour of the terrorist attack, the United States AWACS fleet was patrolling the skies over the United States. At that time the US AWACS fleet consisted of 28 AWACS aircraft and 3,400 personnel, and it was engaged in four different theatres of operation around the world. The United States requested NATO to deploy its AWACS to reduce the operational pressure on the US AWACS fleet, allowing them to continue to conduct much-needed training and maintenance. On 8 October NATO agreed to provide five NATO AWACS and crews in support of the anti terrorist campaign.

With only 24 hours notice the first two E-3As took off from the Component and headed for Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, United States. The next two days another three E-3As followed, accompanied by one Trainer Cargo Aircraft (TCA) bringing equipment and additional personnel. NATO’s Operation Eagle Assist had begun.

"I remember coming back from a normal training flight on 8 October and later in the afternoon I got my orders to start a 40-day deployment to Tinker AFB within 24 hours. That was very short notice, but we all realized the importance of this mission. As a Fighter Allocator I am used to looking at a scope crowded with aircraft, but I remember that on my first Eagle Assist mission my scope was almost clean, except for the air policing aircraft I was controlling and the tankers that supported us. Even though the scope was empty, the threat was high and intelligence briefed us to look for small, slow-moving aircraft heading for big cities or high-value assets. 

The crew was very silent and we were all aware of how crucial this operation was. The duration of each flight was more than 12 hours, and the longest one was more than 17 hours. Crew integration was important and the teamwork was awesome. We did not have much time to get around in the local area, but when we did we were all overwhelmed by the blessings and appreciation that we received from the American people. That is something I will never forget,” says one of the experienced crew members who flew during Operation Eagle Assist.

Needless to say that the first time of invoking Article 5 attracted enormous attention from the international media. After the first press conference, requests for media flights came from media agencies in Europe, Asia, South and Northern America. All the major agencies such as CNN, CBC, ARD, ZDF, NOS, Washington Post and many, many others were given the opportunity to fly.

Operation Eagle Assist came to an end on 15 May 2002. In more than seven months of patrolling the skies over the United States, the E-3A Component flew 447 sorties with a total of 4,719 flying hours. The majority of these flights went to the East Coast, and other flights guarded major cities, nuclear power plants, bridges or major sports events. More than 800 Component members from 13 nations deployed to Tinker Air Force Base and played a major role. However, this deployment would not have been possible without the tremendous support of the more than 2,000 people remaining back at the E-3A Component, who overcame many shortages – often critical ones – to ensure the deployed force remained fully operational. "From a NATO perspective Operation Eagle Assist had a truly historic dimension. After more than 50 years of one-way traffic across the Atlantic, in military support terms, the European NATO member nations were able to return some of the overwhelming support provided by the United States of America to Europe after World War II,” said Maj.Gen. Johann G. Dora, the Commander of the NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control Force at the time.

Operation Active Endeavour


E-3A and E-3D AWACS aircraft supported Operation Active Endeavour (OAE), a NATO maritime counter-terrorism operation in the Mediterranean. The AWACS, with its surveillance systems, is an excellent platform to contribute to the overall understanding of ship movement in the area – what NATO terms the Recognized Maritime Picture (RMP). This, coupled with AWACS’ command, control and communications capabilities, ensures commanders receive accurate information via automatic data link and distribution systems.

With the recent addition of the Automatic Identification System (AIS), the aircraft can enhance the RMP by correlating the surface picture with the transmitted maritime identification codes. This improvement enhances NATO’s ability to support maritime anti-smuggling and anti-piracy activities.

Operation Active Endeavour was a network-based operation which included NATO and non-NATO force assets and demonstrates the Alliance’s resolve to help defend and protect against the broad terrorist threat by using maritime and supporting air capabilities within the Mediterranean area of operations.

This operation was launched in 2001 following the terrorist attacks against the United States. It has since evolved into a comprehensive counter-terrorism operation based on the collection and analysis of information relating to the maritime traffic and obtained through surveillance conducted by NATO naval and air units. Surveillance by military assets was focused – at irregular intervals – on specific areas of the Mediterranean, with ‘surge’ operations during which larger scale sweeps were conducted to establish presence and monitor maritime activity, with the option of conducting at-sea inspections.


2011-2014 Operation Afghan Assist

NATO E-3A (AWACS) aircraft of the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force E-3A Component conducted Operation Afghan Assist (OAA) while deployed to Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan, in support of NATO’s International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) operations. In this operation, NATO AWACS provided air command and control, communications relay and radar coverage in the airspace of Afghanistan, as well as air-to-air refuelling flow management and civil and military aircraft deconfliction.NATO E-3A aircraft provided enhanced situational awareness for air and ground commanders and enable control of close air support (CAS) assets, as well as surveillance and communications support for ground operations, including medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) operations and personnel recovery. Operation Afghan AssistOn 14 January 2011, the E-3A Component started to establish its deployed operating base for OAA, with airfield services, operational facilities, maintenance areas, messing and accommodation at Camp Marmal, located at Mazar-e Sharif Air Base, Afghanistan.

The first operational NATO AWACS flight supporting ISAF took place on 15 January 2011. Operational missions were flown on a daily basis to support the ISAF operation and deployed troops. For the first time in NATO AWACS history, NATO E-3A aircraft were supporting an operation while stationed in a crisis area outside NATO territory.

The E-3A Component personnel deployed there were from the flying squadrons, maintenance facilities, force protection, supply and administrative services. On 21 September 2014, the NATO AWACS conducted the last operational sortie in its commitment to Operation Afghan Assist in support of ISAF. In total the NATO AWACS flew more than 12,240 hours in more than 1,240 missions.
The E-3A Component provides outstanding capability achieved through cooperation by military and civilian personnel from 16 nations working as a unique operational team under the umbrella of the NATO Alliance.

TCA Operations

From 1985 until 2011 the E-3A Component also operated three Trainer Cargo Aircraft (TCAs), a modified version of the Boeing 707-320C, for transporting cargo and passengers. The last TCA was taken out of service at the Component in December 2011. From the start of 2012, a commercial company took over the cargo and passenger transport tasks formerly accomplished by the TCAs.The Component also employed its Trainer Cargo Aircraft (TCAs) to provide support to humanitarian relief operations.

Search our content:


Airborne Early Warning
& Control Force

P.O. Box 40800
Lilienthalallee 100
52511 Geilenkirchen

Media Operations

Public Affairs Office
P.O. Box 40800
Lilienthalallee 100
52511 Geilenkirchen