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NATO AWACS 'covers' PACAF exercise

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- NATO Members conducts pre-flight checks on an E-3 Airborne Warning And Control System aircraft. NATO is in Alaska participating in Cooperative Cope Thunder along with other multinational air crews. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Garrett Hothan)(RELEASED)

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- NATO Members conducts pre-flight checks on an E-3 Airborne Warning And Control System aircraft. NATO is in Alaska participating in Cooperative Cope Thunder along with other multinational air crews. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Garrett Hothan)(RELEASED)

Master Sgt. Dale Fisher conducts a pre-flight check July 26 on a NATO E-3 Airborne Warning And Control System aircraft at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.  The aircraft and crew are participating in Cooperative Cope Thunder, a multinational exercise taking place in Alaska.  Sergeant Fisher is an AWACS flight engineer.  (US Air Force Photo/Senior Airman Garrett Hothan)

Master Sgt. Dale Fisher conducts a pre-flight check July 26 on a NATO E-3 Airborne Warning And Control System aircraft at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. The aircraft and crew are participating in Cooperative Cope Thunder, a multinational exercise taking place in Alaska. Sergeant Fisher is an AWACS flight engineer. (US Air Force Photo/Senior Airman Garrett Hothan)

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- The NATO E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System looks much like any other cargo plane, except for mounted above the aircraft's fuselage is a 30-foot diameter rotodome.

Once onboard the plane, it's obvious the rotodome is less of a style feature, but has a very significant function. It has radar and various electronic censors capable of detecting low-flying targets within 215 nautical miles and medium altitude targets within 280 nautical miles, in a full 360 degree circle.

Inside the aircraft are consoles, radar screens and a crew of diverse air force personnel manning those positions. Airborne Warning and Control System, hence the term - AWACS, describes the aircraft's primary function: airborne surveillance, command, control and communications.

For the past two weeks the NATO AWACS and crew have participated in Cooperative Cope Thunder/Red Flag Alaska 06-3 exercise scenarios. As the command and control element for the exercise, they have alternated flying missions with Elmendorf's AWACS from the 962nd Airborne Control Squadron.

Multi-nationality is a key characteristic for the NATO AWACs. Fifteen nations participate in the AWACS program with 13 providing personnel to the NATO E-3A Component. On this particular flight, the AWACS from NATO Air Base, Geilenkirchen Germany, had 10 different nationalities represented. The 17-member crew included aircrew members, weapons controllers, surveillance operators, and communications and radar technicians.

Belgian Maj Luc Colin, the tactical director explained that while the AWACS primary role is surveillance, they also conduct tactical management such as support and control of friendly aircraft involved in offensive and defensive counter air operations.

For CCT/RFA exercise, the AWACS have had a dual role between red air and blue air forces. During this particular mission, Major Colin said, "We are the bad guys (red air) and some of our troops in certain areas are now defended by surface to air missiles and our guys are going to first, suppress the missiles; second, drop bombs on the enemy; and third, get our transporters to fly in route to drop supplies to the troops still in those areas. At the same time we have to defend against the enemy air forces that will try to attack all our forces.

"For any given mission we can conduct close air support, battlefield air interdiction, combat search and rescue, reconnaissance, tactical air transport and air to air refueling,' said Major Colin.

The NATO AWACS have participated in past CCT exercises. But, for many on the crew, this was their first time.


"It's really nice to get to train in exotic places like Alaska," said Danish Master Sgt Glenn Galthen, radar technician. "Our multi mode radar is able to separate moving targets from ground clutter by use of the Doppler principle," he said. "We are able to detect and track low flying aircraft. My job is to ensure that no other aircraft works on our frequency or interferes with our airspace."

"Cooperative Cope Thunder/RFA exercises provide great training opportunities to plan and execute these missions," said Italian Maj Stefano Cianfrocca, NATO AWACS aircraft commander.

"Our overall mission is to provide aircraft and trained aircrews to deliver surveillance and/or airspace control capability whenever and wherever needed to support the alliance objectives.

"Exercises such as CCT/RFA allow us to sharpen our air combat skills with partners from other air forces," he said.

The NATO AWACS has been called on to support a wide range of operations. After Sept 11, 2001, NATO deployed AWACS to the U.S. to fly a variety of security support missions, freeing the U.S. AWACS to operate in Afghanistan.