E-3 Sentry is an airborne warning and control
system, or AWACS, aircraft with an integrated command and
battle management, or C2BM, surveillance, target detection,
tracking platform. The aircraft provides an accurate,
picture of the battlespace to the Joint Air Operations Center. AWACS
provides situational awareness of friendly, neutral and hostile
activity, command and control of an area of responsibility, battle
management of theater forces, all-altitude and all-weather surveillance
of the battle space, and early warning of enemy actions during joint,
allied, and coalition operations.
The E-3 Sentry is a modified Boeing 707/320 commercial airframe with a
rotating radar dome. The dome is 30 feet (9.1 meters) in diameter, six
feet (1.8 meters) thick, and is held 11 feet (3.33 meters) above the
fuselage by two struts. It contains a radar subsystem that permits
surveillance from the Earth's surface up into the stratosphere, over
land or water. The radar has a range of more than 250 miles (375.5
kilometers). The radar combined with an identification friend or foe,
or IFF, subsystem can look down to detect, identify and track enemy and
friendly low-flying aircraft by eliminating ground clutter returns that
confuse other radar systems.
Major subsystems in the E-3 are avionic, navigation, communications,
sensors (radar and passive dectection) and identification tools
(IFF/SIF). The mission suite includes consoles that display
computer-processed data in graphic and tabular format on video screens.
Mission crew members perform surveillance, identification, weapons
control, battle management and communications functions.
The radar and computer subsystems on the E-3 Sentry can gather and
present broad and detailed battlefield information. This
position and tracking information on enemy aircraft and ships, and
location and status of friendly aircraft and naval vessels. The
information can be sent to major command and control centers in rear
areas or aboard ships. In time of crisis, this data can also be
forwarded to the president and secretary of defense in the United
In support of air-to-ground operations, the Sentry can provide direct
information needed for interdiction, reconnaissance, airlift and
close-air support for friendly ground forces. It can also provide
information for commanders of air operations to gain and maintain
control of the air battle.
As an air defense system, E-3s can detect, identify and track airborne
enemy forces far from the boundaries of the United States or NATO
countries. It can direct fighter-interceptor aircraft to these enemy
targets. Experience has proven that the E-3 Sentry can respond quickly
and effectively to a crisis and support worldwide military deployment
AWACS may be employed alone or horizontally integrated in combination
with other C2BM and intelligence, surveillance, and
reconnaissance elements of the Ground Theater Air Control
supports decentralized execution of the air tasking order/air combat
order. The system provides the ability to find, fix, track and
airborne or maritime threats and to detect, locate and ID emitters. It
has the ability to detect threats and control assets below and beyond
the coverage of ground-based command and control or C2, and can
exchange data with other C2 systems and shooters via datalinks.
With its mobility as an airborne warning and control system, the Sentry
has a greater chance of surviving in warfare than a fixed, ground-based
radar system. Among other things, the flight path can quickly be
changed according to mission and survival requirements. The E-3 can fly
a mission profile approximately 8 hours without refueling. Its range
and on-station time can be increased through in-flight refueling and
the use of an on-board crew rest area.
Engineering, test and evaluation began on the first E-3 Sentry in
October 1975. In March 1977 the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing
(now 552nd Air Control Wing, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla.), received
the first E-3s.
There are 33 aircraft in the U.S. inventory. Air Combat Command has 28
E-3s at Tinker. Pacific Air Forces has four E-3 Sentries at Kadena AB,
Japan and Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. There is also one test aircraft at the
Boeing Aircraft Company in Seattle.
NATO has 17 E-3A's and support equipment. The first E-3 was
to NATO in January 1982. The United Kingdom has seven E-3s, France has
four, and Saudi Arabia has five. Japan has four AWACS housed on the
Boeing 767 airframe.
As proven in operations Desert Storm, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom
and Iraqi Freedom, the E-3 Sentry is the premier C2BM aircraft
world. AWACS aircraft and crews were instrumental to the successful
completion of operations Northern and Southern Watch, and are still
engaged in operations Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom. They provide
radar surveillance and control in addition to providing senior
leadership with time-critical information on the actions of enemy
The data collection capability of the E-3 radar and computer subsystems
allowed an entire air war to be recorded for the first time in the
history of aerial warfare.
In March 1996, the Air Force activated the 513th Air Control Group, an
AWACS Reserve Associate Program unit, which performs duties on
During the spring of 1999, the first AWACS aircraft went through the
Radar System Improvement Program. RSIP is a joint U.S./NATO development
program that involved a major hardware and software intensive
modification to the existing radar system. Installation of RSIP
enhanced the operational capability of the E-3 radar electronic
counter-measures, and has improved the system's reliability,
maintainability and availability.