The E-3 Sentry is an airborne warning and control system (AWACS)
aircraft that provides all-weather surveillance, command,
control and communications needed by commanders of U.S. and NATO
air defense forces. As proven in Desert Storm, it is the premier
air battle command and control aircraft in the world today. It
is a modified Boeing 707/320 commercial airframe with a rotating
radar dome. It contains a radar subsystem that
permits surveillance from the Earth's surface up into the
stratosphere, over land or water. The radar has a range of more
than 200 miles for low-flying targets and
farther for aerospace vehicles flying at medium to high
altitudes. The radar combined with an identification friend or
foe subsystem can look down to detect, identify and track enemy
and friendly low-flying aircraft by eliminating ground clutter
returns that confuse other radar systems.
Engineering, test and evaluation began on the
first E-3 Sentry in October 1975. In March 1977 the 552nd
Airborne Warning and Control Wing (now 552nd Air Control Wing.), received the first E-3s where
they are still assigned. Pacific Air Forces has four E-3
Sentries assigned to the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron (AACS),
Kadena Air Base, Japan, and the 962nd AACS, Elmendorf AFB,
Alaska. NATO has acquired 18 of the aircraft and support
equipment. The first E-3 was delivered to NATO in January 1982.
The United Kingdom has seven E-3s and France has four.
E-3 Sentry aircraft were among the first to deploy during
Operation Desert Shield where they immediately established an
around-the-clock radar screen to defend against Iraqi
aggression. During Desert Storm, E-3s flew more than 400
missions and logged more than 5,000 hours of on-station time.
They provided radar surveillance and control to more than
120,000 coalition sorties. In addition to providing senior
leadership with time-critical information on the actions of
enemy forces, E-3 controllers assisted in 38 of the 40
air-to-air kills recorded during the conflict. For the first
time in the history of aerial warfare, an entire air war has
been recorded. This was due to the data collection capability of
the E-3 radar and computer subsystems.