Keeping an eye on the ball
Not many people would immediately associate NATO with the Euro 2012 Football Championship. But NATO's "Eye in the Sky", the AWACS (Airborne Warning & Control System) will be playing an important role in the security of the European teams' competition over the next three weeks.
As a consequence of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, NATO governments have been able to request the air surveillance and control capability of NATO AWACS to assist with security for major public events. Poland, as co-host of the competition along with Ukraine, is the latest NATO member to make such a request. Other high-visibility events to which the AWACS have been called in include the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Greece, the 2004 European Football Championship in Portugal, and the 2006 World Cup Football Championship in Germany, as well as important meetings held by other international organisations.
The fleet of Boeing E-3A 'Sentry' AWACS conduct a wide range of missions such as air policing, counter-terrorism, crisis response and demonstrative force operations. As well as providing air support to meetings of Alliance heads of state, governmental and non-governmental meetings, and NATO summits, the AWACS have also played a crucial role in NATO operations, such as Unified Protector in 2011.
The NATO AWACS is the Alliance's largest collaborative programme and is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In keeping with the Secretary General's "Smart Defence" initiative, the programme is an example of what NATO member countries, in this case 18 nations, can achieve by pooling resources and working together in a truly multinational environment.
So as football fans prepare to watch their national teams battle against each other in the Euro 2012 tournament, they can be reassured that some of their fellow citizens are united in ensuring the security of the competition.