Multinational cooperation is the key characteristic of the NAEW&C Programme Management Organisation (NAPMO). Currently, the 16 full NAPMO nations are: Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Turkey and the United States.
The United Kingdom exercises limited participation as a NAPMO member, but its fleet of E-3D aircraft is an integral part of the NAEW&C Force. France has an observer role and maintains continual coordination to ensure its E-3F aircraft remain interoperable with the other E-3 fleets. France also often assists in coordinated operations with the NAEW&C Force.
The NAEW&C Force Command Headquarters is co-located with Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Mons, Belgium, and exercises operational control over the Force, consisting of two operational components:
- the E-3A Component based at NAB Geilenkirchen, which operates the 17 NATO-owned NE-3A aircraft (the squadrons are manned by integrated international crews from 15 nations); and
- the E-3D Component based at RAF Waddington, United Kingdom, which operates their six Boeing E-3D aircraft (the component is manned by Royal Air Force personnel only).
The Force also maintains three forward-operating bases (FOBs) at Konya in Turkey, Aktion in Greece, Trapani in Italy, and a forward-operating location (FOL) at Oerland, Norway.
The AWACS programme, including execution of modernisation projects, is managed on a day-to-day basis by the NAEW&C Programme Management Agency (NAPMA), which is located at Brunssum, the Netherlands. The agency is staffed by military officers seconded to the agency and by civilian officials from the nations participating in the programme. In 2011, the NAPMA General Manager was assigned by the NAPMO nations as the Technical Airworthiness Authority (TAA) for the NE-3A fleet. Supported by a dedicated engineering office, the TAA shares responsibilities for airworthiness certification, together with the NAEW&C Force Commander who is responsible operations and support of the fleet.
How the NAEW&C Force works
All AWACS aircraft undergo continuous modifications for modernisation and for operations and support. An NE-3A aircraft modified under the NATO Mid-Term (NMT) Programme has a standard crew of 16, while the original E-3D requires a standard crew of 18. Whatever the variant, the flight and mission crews are highly-trained men and women whose expertise covers all areas of flight operations, including battle space management, weapons control, surveillance control, data link management and the technical aspects of communications, data systems and mission radar.
Under normal circumstances, the aircraft can operate for about eight hours (and longer with air-to-air refuelling) at 30,000 feet (9,150 metres).
The active surveillance sensors are located in the radar dome (“rotodome”) which makes the NE-3A such a uniquely recognisable aircraft. This structure rotates once every ten seconds and provides the NE-3A with 360-degree radar coverage that can detect aircraft out to a distance of more than 215 nautical miles (400 kilometres).
One aircraft flying at 30,000 feet has a surveillance area coverage of more than 120,000 square miles and three aircraft operating in overlapping, coordinated orbits can provide unbroken radar coverage of the whole of Central Europe.
The aircraft is able to track and identify potentially hostile aircraft operating at low altitudes, as well as provide fighter control of Allied aircraft. It can simultaneously track and identify maritime contacts, and provide coordination support to Allied surface forces.