Operations

AWACS: The Intelligence Behind The Fight Against Islamic State

The AWACS, another name for a Boeing E-3, is a flying command and control centre, playing a key role in the fight against Daesh.

For the past two years, crews of the NATO AWACS surveillance aircraft have been supporting the US-led coalition against so-called Islamic State.

The AWACS, another name for a Boeing E-3, is a flying command and control centre, monitoring hundreds of miles of air space for enemy threats while making sure coalition jets, including the Royal Air Force, are kept safely apart. 

However, the aircraft does not direct airstrikes, that's done from the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Qatar.

The AWACS takes off from its base in Konya (Picture: NATO TV).
The AWACS takes off from its base in Konya (Picture: NATO TV).

Lieutenant Colonel Ratersmann, AWACS aircraft commander, said: "Once we depart from our base in Konya (Turkey), we fly eastbound towards the Turkish border, towards Syria.

"We stay always north of that border within the Turkish airspace, NATO territory.

"Then it takes about an hour to get there, and then we get into an orbit flight, basically a circle, and we stay there for the duration of our mission.

"Once we’re established there, that’s when the mission crew in the back, they do all their stuff and do all their job in the back."

The AWACS was originally designed in the early 1970s  and was based on the Boeing 707 airliner.

Inside the AWACS' rotating radome is a massive antenna which provides a complete picture of surrounding airspace.

So-called mission crew on the AWACS (Picture: NATO TV).
Mission crew on the AWACS (Picture: NATO TV).

The aircraft can carry up to 33 crew - a small number fly the aircraft while dozens more, so-called mission crew, are based in the back.

"Sometimes we also get a tanker, we get air-to-air refuelled, and then we have to leave our area a little bit, but it’s very nearby," explained Lt Col Ratersmann.

"Then we do the air refuelling for about 30 minutes, 45 minutes, get some more fuel and then we can extend our mission."

After seven hours in the air, the AWACS heads back to base in Turkey.

The UK has seven AWACS, which the RAF calls the E-3D Sentry.

They were used during the early stages of Operation Shader - the UK's contribution to the fight on IS.

The aircraft plays a key role in the air war against Daesh, helping to draw their defeat ever closer.