NATO looks set to reduce its E-3 Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) fleet from 17 to 14 aircraft, according to an upgrade contract awarded to Boeing on 6 August.
The USD250 million contract will see the flight decks of 13 AWACS aircraft modernised to make them Global Air Traffic Management (GATM)-compliant. This is in addition to one engineering manufacturing and development (EMD) aircraft, which is due to enter flight testing later this year.
In May an alliance official told IHS Jane's that there was talk of reducing the 17-strong AWACs fleet to 14, and that allied commanders were re-working their mission capability planning to reflect this. Boeing's contract appears to suggest that this decision has now been taken, and that the NATO AWACS fleet will be cut by three airframes.
NATO had not responded to a request for comment by the time IHS Jane's went to press.
The E-3 AWACS entered NATO service in 1982, and the alliance disclosed earlier this year that it was considering options for a possible replacement. In May, officials noted that the ongoing and planned modernisation work will take the type's out-of-service date out to at least 2024, and possibly as far as 2035, saying: "A decision will need to be made by the end of  about NATO's post-AWACS situation."
With budget and desired capability being the two main factors in deciding the future of the AWACS fleet, IHS Jane's has previously reported that officials will receive a report on this issue when the next NATO summit convenes in Wales on 4 September. "Everyone is aware that the AWACS are getting old. They're one of the major ISR [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance] decisions the nations have to address," an alliance official said.
UPDATE: On 8 August, NATO told IHS Jane’s: “NATO is currently conducting a Force Review of its fleet of AWACS aircraft. This review is ongoing. It includes looking at the total number of AWACS planes that will be required in the future. However no final decision has been taken.
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