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The NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force (NAEW&CF)

In the early 1970s, studies directed by NATO's major military commanders showed that an airborne early warning (AEW) radar system would significantly enhance the Alliance's air defence capability.  In December 1978 the Defence planning Committee signed a Memorandum of Understanding to buy and operate a NATO-owned AEW system.  As a result of this decision the member nations embarked upon NATO's largest commonly funded acquisition programme.

NATO TCA
NATO E-3A
Note the smaller engines and no wing tip ESM pods.  The ESM system is in the bulge aft of the cockpit
(Image: NATO)
Click Image to Enlarge

The NAEW&CF was established in January 1980 and granted full NATO Command Headquarters status by NATO's Defence Planning Committee on 17 October 1980.  Force Command Headquarters is collocated with Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium.  While the NAEW&CF supports both major NATO commands - Allied Command Atlantic (ACLANT) and Allied Command Europe (ACE) - SHAPE exercises administrative control of the force.

The NATO E-3A Component of the command operates 17 Boeing E-3A aircraft.  A second component was planned to consist of 11 British Nimrod AEW Mk 3 aircraft, but the programme was canceled in December 1986 and the British government acquired 7 Boeing E-3D Sentry Mk 1's to form the UK's E-3D Component.  Six E-3D aircraft are currently in service at RAF Waddington, England.

When the NATO E-3A Component commenced operations in 1982, twelve nations (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece. Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, the Netherlands, Portugal, Turkey, and the United States) participated in the programme, providing financial support and personnel (Luxembourg does not contribute to organizational staffing). In 1998, Spain joined the Component team, followed by Hungary in 2006, Poland in 2007, Romania in 2010 and the Czech Republic in 2011.  Other NATO member nations have expressed interest to join the Component in the near future.

NATO TCA
NATO TCA
(Image: NATO)
Click Image to Enlarge

The NATO E-3A Component operates 17 NATO-owned AWACS E-3A aircraft, and until 2011, 3 training cargo/transport aircraft (TCA) from Geilenkirchen, Germany.  The 3 TCA were used for pilot instruction and cargo/passenger transport.  Part of the operational fleet, these aircraft could be quickly converted from an all-passenger configuration into an all-cargo configuration or a combination of the two.  The UK Component also used the TCA when operating in NATO Operations or Exercises abroad.  Starting in January 2012, TNT Airlines SA have been contracted to provide cargo and passenger services for the Component.

E-3A/D regularly deploy to the forward operating bases (FOBs) at Konya (Turkey), Aktion (Greece), Trapani (Italy) and to the forward operating location (FOL) in Oerland (Norway).