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Roles and Operations

The E-3A AWACS are NATO’s ‘eye in the sky’. They conduct a wide range of missions from peacetime air policing, support to counter-terrorism, evacuation operations, embargo, initial entry and crisis response to the full spectrum of wartime missions. The AWACS’ roles include:

  • Airborne Early Warning & Control
    Airspace surveillance and early detection of airborne threats.

  • Command & control
    Command and control of military air units during operations and exercises.

  • Fighter control 
    Control of combat aircraft during operations and exercises.
  • SAR support 
    Coordination of Search and Rescue operations.

  • Airspace control
    Control and coordination of airspace and the aircraft present within it.

  • Missile defence
    Control of ground-based airspace defence units.

  • Support of maritime operations 
    Establishing and providing a radar picture of ongoing activities within a maritime area.


Today's evolving security environment is complex and has global dimension. Potential operations for the NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control Force go far beyond its original role of strategic air surveillance and fighter control throughout Europe. It now covers complex missions for the full spectrum of Air Battle Management, including air-to-air and air-to-ground control, air surveillance and airspace management, air policing, combat search and rescue, force marshalling and threat broadcast.

Since March 2014, AWACS are providing surveillance and reconnaissance flights on the Eastern part of the Alliance in support of NATO’s Assurance Measures. These missions enhance NATO’s situational awareness and show the solidarity and commitment of NATO towards its allies.

The NAEW&C Force is part of several readiness forces with different responding times such as the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) and the NATO Response Force (NRF).  

NATO AWACS are regularly tasked to protect major highly visible events, including NATO Summits, international football tournaments or the Olympics. 

In the past, AWACS surveillance aircraft played an important role in previous NATO operations such as in the United States after 9/11, in Libya and in Afghanistan. The Component also employed its Trainer Cargo Aircraft (TCAs) to provide support to humanitarian relief operations before these were decommissioned. 


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Airborne Early Warning
& Control Force

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Lilienthalallee 100
52511 Geilenkirchen

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