On September 28, 2023, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization issued an official communiqué announcing the allocation of E–A Sentry aircraft belonging to the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) in Šiauliai, located on Lithuanian territory[1]. These ventures are aimed at increasing the level of security in the region of the Baltic Sea states in connection with the military activity of the Russian Federation[2]. The first aircraft landed at the Lithuanian airport the same day. It was noted that the second E–A Sentry AWACS arrived the following day. The entire operation was supported by military aviation personnel of about 150 soldiers[3].

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been underway for more than a year and a half. During this time, NATO has been consistently increasing its activity, including in the airspace, in the eastern flank of the North Atlantic Alliance using special and multi–role aircraft, as well as dedicated air–to–air refueling. This is in response to flights carried out near the territories of NATO member states by Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) combat aircraft belonging to Russia. In addition to the early warning and control aircraft, two weeks ago the United States deployed four F–16s to Romania to boost defense capabilities while carrying out missions as part of NATO’s Rapid Reaction Force[4]. Moreover, four Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon multirole aircraft were flown to Poland in early October[5]. Since February 2022, the E–A Sentry AWACS has made several hundred flights over Eastern Europe to monitor the activities of Russian Federation combat aircraft[6].

In recent days, E–A Sentry AWACS has begun performing reconnaissance flights in the airspace of NATO member states deployed in the eastern flank. These missions are expected to last several weeks, but the date of their completion is not officially known[7]. The special aircraft has been refueled from the operational E–A Sentry AWACS component of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO’s E–3A Component) operating from Geilenkirchen, located in Germany, where 14 aircraft of this type are based on a daily basis[8].

‘The aggressive war waged by Russia against Ukraine has increased our vigilance and focused our attention on the security environment in the Baltic Sea region’, announced Dylan White, acting NATO spokesman. ‘Our AWACS system can detect aircraft and missiles hundreds of kilometers away, a key early warning capability for the North Atlantic Alliance. I thank Lithuania for receiving the first aircraft. This is an important contribution to our common security’[9].

The structure of the E–A Sentry AWACS special aircraft was based on that of the Boeing 707–320B passenger aircraft and designed under the Airborne Warning and Control System project. The main component of the entire system is an airborne command post equipped with a pulse–doppler radio beacon station[10] dedicated to airspace surveillance with a range of hundreds of kilometers with omnidirectional observation capability. It is provided by a Westinghouse APY–2 radiolocator placed on solid supports above the aircraft’s airframe and having a characteristic oval shape associated with a disc. Its operational range for detecting low–flying targets is 400 kilometers, its range for detecting targets flying at medium altitudes was estimated at 520 kilometers, and it can simultaneously track about 600 objects. In addition, it is equipped with a passive radio reconnaissance system[11] Boeing/UTL AN/AYR–1, a terminal of the JTIDS tactical information exchange system of the TADIL–J type, radios operating in Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) mode, i.e. in the frequency range of 300–3000 MHz having a length of 1000–100 mm[12]. The E–A Sentry AWACS special aircraft is a flying command center with 4 crew members and 12–19 mission crew members. The design can perform flight for up to 8 hours without refueling in the air.


[1] R. Thomas, NATO deploys AWACS to Lithuania to monitor Russian activity, online – https://www.airforce-technology.com/news/nato-deploys-awacs-to-lithuania-to-monitor-russian-activity/ [accessed: 5.10.2023].

[2] North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO deploys AWACS surveillance jets to Lithuania, online – https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news_218738.htm [accessed: 5.10.2023].

[3] M. Mitkov, NATO deploys AWACS to Lithuania, online – https://defence24.pl/wiadomosci/nato-rozmiescilo-awacsy-na-litwie [accessed: 5.10.2023].

[4] Militarnyi, U.S. F–16s arrive in Romania, online – https://mil.in.ua/pl/news/do-rumunii-przylecialy-amerykanskie-f-16/ [accessed: 5.10.2023].

[5] Ł. Pacholski, British Typhoons land in Poland, online – https://zbiam.pl/brytyjskie-typhoony-wyladowaly-w-polsce/ [accessed: 5.10.2023].

[6] A. Gencturk, NATO deploys surveillance jets to Lithuania to ‘monitor Russian military activities’, online – https://www.aa.com.tr/en/europe/nato-deploys-surveillance-jets-to-lithuania-to-monitor-russian-military-activities/3003186# [accessed: 5.10.2023].

[7] Made in Vilnius, NATO AWACS reconnaissance aircraft are deployed in Lithuania, online – https://madeinvilnius.lt/pl/Aktualności/Lietuvos-naujienos/Samoloty-rozpoznawcze-NATO-AWAC-są-rozmieszczone-na-Litwie/ [accessed: 5.10.2023].

[8] North AEW&C Program Management Agency, E–3A Component – Geilenkirchen, Germany, online – https://www.napma.nato.int/organisation/o3.html [accessed: 5.10.2023].

[9] North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO deploys AWACS surveillance jets to Lithuania, op.cit.

[10] Pulsed-Doppler radio station – a type of radio station that uses the Doppler shift phenomenon, i.e. intentionally bringing about a difference between the frequency of the radio wave emitted by the source (E–3A Sentry) and the frequency of the wave recorded relative to a moving object, such as an airborne object. In addition, short pulses in fixed time ranges are sent to accurately track this object.

[11] Passive radio reconnaissance (RADINT) – a type of aerial reconnaissance, consisting of uninterrupted observation of the airspace in order to target enemy objects in it without emitting its own radio waves and independently of the operation of active radar stations. Passive reconnaissance is designed only to determine the location and source of signals transmitted by other objects.

[12] Official website of Samolotypolskie.pl, Boeing E–3A ‘Sentry’, online – http://www.samolotypolskie.pl/samoloty/523/126/Boeing-E-3-Sentry [accessed: 5.10.2023].

Photo: Flickr, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, online – https://www.flickr.com/photos/nato/49132203803 [accessed: 5.10.2023].


Tekst powstał w ramach realizacji zadania publicznego zleconego w ramach Rządowego Programu Rozwoju Organizacji Obywatelskich na lata 2018–2030 r. „Bezpieczna Polska jutra – rozwój działań misyjnych Alioth Foundation”.