NATO has completed a more than three-year commitment of Boeing E-3A airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft to Afghanistan, with two of the command and control assets having returned to Europe.
Two E-3As landed at Geilenkirchen air base in Germany on 25 September, having completed a transit from their forward operating location at Mazar-e-Sharif in Balkh province. NATO provided AWACS cover for Afghanistan from the site since January 2011, with the last operational mission performed on 21 September.
During the deployment, the NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control Force flew more than 1,240 missions, totalling 12,240 flying hours. Tasks included providing “air surveillance and tactical battle management functions such as support and control of friendly aircraft”, NATO says.
“NATO has determined that AWACS aircraft will not be required for the Resolute Support mission that stands up on 1 January 2015,” the alliance says, noting that the follow-on activity to the current International Security Assistance Force will be focused on the “train, advise and assist” role.
While its contribution in Afghanistan has come to an end, NATO E-3A component commander Maj Gen Andrew Mueller notes that the coalition asset “remains a ready, reliable and relevant capability for NATO commanders”.
NATO’s E-3A force includes 17 707-derived surveillance aircraft. Fourteen of these are due to undergo a digital flightdeck upgrade by 2018, under a modernisation programme worth around $250 million.