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NATO to replace AWACS surveillance aircraft with modified Boeing 737s

NATO to replace AWACS surveillance aircraft with modified Boeing 737s NATO to replace AWACS with militarized Boeing 737 (Photo:

NATO will replace its outdated AWACS reconnaissance aircraft, which have been in service since the Cold War in the 1980s, with a modified version of the Boeing 737 commercial aircraft. The contract to purchase the aircraft will be one of the most expensive for the Alliance, according to NATO reports.

Thanks to a rotating radar, the modified Boeing 737 aircraft can detect planes at a distance of over 400 kilometers. According to NATO, these aircraft in the E-7 Wedgetail version can monitor an area of ​​about 300,000 square kilometers, an area the size of Poland, and detect ground targets and ships.

To replace the old AWACS aircraft, NATO plans to buy six Boeing E-7 A Wedgetail aircraft, with the contract signed in 2024 and the first aircraft ready for operational use by 2031.

"Surveillance and control aircraft are crucial for NATO’s collective defense and I welcome Allies’ commitment to investing in high-end capabilities," said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

NATO has operated a fleet of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) long-range radar detection and control (AEW&C) aircraft since the 1980s. Based at the Geilenkirchen airbase in Germany, AWACS systems have participated in all significant NATO operations, including the fight against ISIS and on the eastern flank of NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine.

It is expected that the E-7 will have its main base in Geilenkirchen and will be able to operate from several advanced bases across Europe. Wedgetail will be part of the Alliance's future surveillance and control project, under which NATO surveillance systems of the next generation will be introduced from the mid-2030s.

The Alliance did not specify why it decided to replace its fleet of 14 AEW&C aircraft with only six Wedgetail aircraft. Still, it stated that the new aircraft would have better capabilities and be more expensive than their predecessors.

Flights of AWACS after the start of the war

Due to Russian aggression against Ukraine, NATO has strengthened its air presence in the eastern part of the Alliance with fighters, observation aircraft, and tankers.

Since February 2022, AWACS aircraft have made hundreds of flights over Eastern Europe to monitor Russian military aircraft.

In September, NATO temporarily deployed Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft to the Lithuanian city of Siauliai.