June 28, 2022

Inside of the AWACS with crew monitoring Russian air site visitors over Moldavia and Ukraine.The Globe and Mail

The primary Russian fighter-bombers had been noticed by the crew of our NATO surveillance airplane inside 90 minutes of takeoff, at 8:30 a.m. native time Thursday, from Geilenkirchen airbase in northwestern Germany. There have been a dozen of them, all flying inside Belarusian airspace.

Would they quickly enter Ukraine for city bombing or ground-attack missions?

At that second, Belgian Lieutenant-Colonel Denis Guillaume, the tactical director of NATO Mission A18438, didn’t know. “Sure, they might go into Ukraine,” he mentioned, noting that destroying Ukrainian targets was the first mission of Russian pilots within the battle, which had entered its third week.

Positive sufficient, later within the day, Russian jets had been noticed over Ukraine. After nightfall, simply earlier than our exceedingly lengthy flight was to go again to Germany, about half a dozen Russian planes left Belarus and gave the impression to be headed south, towards Kyiv.

Our airplane’s surveillance methods decided that they had been travelling at low altitude, maybe getting in place for a bombing run.

Russian bombing missions have been pretty regular not too long ago however immediately intensified Friday, when three Ukrainian cities had been hit. Earlier than Friday’s raids, there was hypothesis that Russian pilots had run wanting sensible (that’s, guided) bombs. Or maybe they had been afraid of Ukraine’s ground-to-air Stinger missiles, which reportedly have taken down various Russian fighter-bombers and helicopters – considerably extra if Ukrainian claims are correct.

Whereas Lt.-Col. Guillaume didn’t know the final word vacation spot of the Russian jets, he knew the make – Sukhoi – and their route, altitude and pace. The extremely detailed data got here from our airplane’s two fundamental surveillance sources.

Canadian flight engineer Peter Mille contained in the AWACS.The Globe and Mail

The primary was the large radar dome, 9 metres in diameter and 1.8 metres thick, which rotates six occasions a minute; it’s mounted on two stalks atop the fuselage of NATO’s extremely specialised E-3A AWACS jet. The acronym stands for Airborne Warning and Management System.

The second was a collection of “listening ears” that protrude barely alongside both sides of the E-3A, close to the entrance of the fuselage, and decide up electromagnetic “emissions” from plane. The 2 methods additionally enable the AWACS to find out the kind of plane in an space. In addition to the Sukhois, Lt.-Col. Guillaume noticed a Russian Beriev A-50 AWACS airplane that was evidently offering surveillance for, or mission-control directions to, the Russian fighter-bombers.

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All that data and extra was displayed on his pc display. Plane thought of “pleasant” – NATO planes flying in NATO airspace – got here up as blue dots; orange denoted possible Russian planes. “All this offers us what we name a ‘acknowledged air image,’” he mentioned.

One drawback for the AWACS is that the Russian and Ukrainian air forces each use Russian-built MiG-29 jets. Since all pilots in fight conditions flip off their planes’ transponders – the digital gadgets that ship out plane identification alerts – the AWACS can’t inform if a MiG-29 over Ukraine is Russian or Ukrainian. However the math says they’re extra prone to be Russian – Ukraine’s air drive is tiny compared to Russia’s.


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NATO’s huge eye within the sky

NATO maintains watch over European skies with its

element of Airborne Warning and Management System

plane (AWACs) based mostly in Geilenkirchen, Germany.

Flying 14 E-3A Sentry plane – modified Boeing 707s –

the multinational unit was activated in 1982 and have become

totally operational in 1988. The planes fly for 10 hours or

extra at an altitude of 10,000 metres, scanning European

airspace for threats with their highly effective surveillance

methods.

Engines: 4 TF-33

Pratt & Whitney

100A turbofan

Surveillance: A crew of 21,

made up of pilots, a flight

engineer, technicians and

controllers, monitor

screens for data

from the massive radar and

sensors, which may scan

an space of greater than

312,000 sq. km.

JOHN SOPINSKI/the globe and mail, Supply: AWACS.NATO.INT;

OPENSTREETMAP; flightaware.com; photograph: nato

NATO’s huge eye within the sky

NATO maintains watch over European skies with its element of

Airborne Warning and Management System plane (AWACs) based mostly in

Geilenkirchen, Germany. Flying 14 E-3A Sentry plane – modified

Boeing 707s – the multinational unit was activated in 1982 and

grew to become totally operational in 1988. The planes fly for 10 hours or

extra at an altitude of 10,000 metres, scanning European airspace

for threats with their highly effective surveillance methods.

Engines: 4 TF-33

Pratt & Whitney

100A turbofan

Surveillance: A crew of 21,

made up of pilots, a flight

engineer, technicians and

controllers, monitor

screens for data

from the massive radar and

sensors, which may scan

an space of greater than

312,000 sq. km.

JOHN SOPINSKI/the globe and mail, Supply: AWACS.NATO.INT;

OPENSTREETMAP; flightaware.com; photograph: nato

NATO’s huge eye within the sky

NATO maintains watch over European skies with its element

of Airborne Warning and Management System plane (AWACs)

based mostly in Geilenkirchen, Germany. Flying 14 E-3A Sentry plane

– modified Boeing 707s – the multinational unit was activated

in 1982 and have become totally operational in 1988. The planes fly

for 10 hours or extra at an altitude of 10,000 metres, scanning

European airspace for threats with their highly effective surveillance

methods.

Engines: 4 TF-33

Pratt & Whitney

100A turbofan

Radar dome: Rotates

as soon as each 10 seconds

NATO Air Base

Geilenkirchen

Surveillance: A crew of 21, made up of

pilots, a flight engineer, technicians and

controllers, monitor screens for inform-

ation from the massive radar and sensors,

which may scan an space of greater than

312,000 sq. kilometres.

JOHN SOPINSKI/the globe and mail, Supply: AWACS.NATO.INT; OPENSTREETMAP; flightaware.com; photograph: nato

Our flight started from Geilenkirchen, the NATO base that’s dwelling to 12 of the 14 AWACS nonetheless in service – the opposite two at the moment are flying from Turkey – and about 1,500 navy personnel dedicated to conserving them within the air.

There have been 18 of those outdated beasts at one level, however one crashed a few years in the past upon takeoff in Greece and three clapped-out ones are getting used for components. The survivors are being modernized and may stay in service till 2035 – greater than half a century after they first took to the air. Already, most of the planes’ aircrew are far youthful than the planes themselves.

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Take away the radar dome and an E-3A wouldn’t appear like a navy jet. That’s as a result of it’s based mostly on the Boeing 707, a once-popular four-engine passenger airplane, minus its aspect home windows. The AWACS variations got here into service within the early Eighties, and their smoke-belching Pratt & Whitney turbofan engines are uncomfortably noisy.

Inside, the airplane seems to be like a protracted, skinny inventory merchants’ ground, with row upon row of pc screens related to the surveillance methods, mills powered by the plane engines and quite a lot of electronics, fashionable and dated, stuffed onto racks. As I appeared curiously at an apparently historic, floor-mounted contraption with tubes dangling out of it, one of many flight technicians advised me: “Hey, it really works, and if it really works we don’t repair it.”

Aboard had been 21 crew members from america, Canada, Germany, Belgium and different NATO international locations. Stuffed into the cockpit was the pilot – an American girl – two co-pilots and the flight engineer. A fifth occupant, a stuffed toy lion, was stashed within the left rear of the cockpit. It’s the mascot of AWACS Squadron 2; Squadron 1′s is a tiger.

The remainder of the airplane was stuffed with quite a lot of technicians, surveillance operators, plane controllers and fighter allocators. All of them wore inexperienced navy overalls. (I used to be amongst 5 journalists on the flight.)

Our mission was to fly in a steady loop at an altitude of barely greater than 9,000 metres inside what the crew referred to as the “triangle,” the place Poland meets Belarus and Ukraine. The loop was about 30 kilometres from one finish to the opposite, and we flew counterclockwise.

The airplane was designed for flights of 10 hours or extra – ours was 12. Within the rear had been six collapsible bunks for crew members needing a horizontal break, a rudimentary kitchen to heat premade meals, a bathroom you’d see on any passenger jet and eight rear-facing seats for non-military crew and friends.

Lengthy flights require mid-air refuelling, despite the fact that the airplane has monumental gasoline tanks that may maintain virtually 90,000 litres of kerosene. Our airplane was topped up by a Boeing KC-135 tanker about 4 hours into the flight. The tanker flew above and barely forward of us, filling our airplane through a increase that related to a nozzle on the entrance prime of the airplane. The method took about 45 minutes because the AWACS lurched up and down within the turbulence.

The mission of the AWACS planes on this battle is twofold. The primary is to watch warplane site visitors inside Ukraine and decide the place these plane took off from – Russia or Belarus. The second is to safe NATO’s airspace, particularly that of NATO’s Jap European members corresponding to Poland and Romania. Their borders are near, or on, the borders of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, the Russian shopper state from which many Russian planes fly to assault Ukraine.

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If a non-NATO airplane enters NATO airspace by chance or on function, the AWACS would know instantly and alert NATO’s command centre. Up to now, that has but to occur.

The primary position is the place it will get fascinating. The info and intelligence collected by the AWACS is distributed to NATO, which in flip sends it to particular person NATO member international locations, together with Canada. What these international locations do with the data will not be formally identified. However is sort of definitely delivered in actual time, or close to actual time, to the Ukrainian navy.

A NATO official, who will not be being recognized as a result of he was not licensed to talk to the media, advised The Globe and Mail that “NATO has a long-established co-operation [agreement] with quite a lot of companions, together with Ukraine, relating to exchanges of air-situation information. This settlement was in place earlier than the battle and stays in operation.”

The AWACS planes don’t danger flying on the very fringe of Ukrainian airspace, in good half as a result of they don’t must. The primary radar can peer a number of hundred kilometres into Ukraine. When the planes are at peak cruising altitude, they will monitor an space of 312,000 sq. kilometres, equal to the scale of Vietnam. “We are able to see proper into Kyiv from Poland,” mentioned Warrant Officer Peter Miller, the mission’s Newfoundland-born flight engineer.

The opposite cause, in fact, is that straying into Ukrainian airspace would virtually definitely be condemned as an act of battle by Russia, that means the AWACS would danger being shot down – all of the extra so for the reason that Russians little doubt know the NATO planes are virtually definitely delivering information on Russian air site visitors to the Ukrainians. The AWACS carry no defensive weapons, not even flares to confuse heat-seeking missiles, although they often obtain fighter escort.

Nonetheless, all wars are unpredictable, and whereas most AWACS flights are totally protected – besides when they’re flying over battle zones, as they did in Afghanistan – there may be tense moments.

A type of moments got here on an evening mission final Sunday. WO Miller mentioned his AWACS was monitoring the flights of fighter-bombers that had taken off from Russia and Belarus. A few them bought inside 130 kilometres or so of the AWACS; the excessive closing speeds of the NATO and Russian plane meant that, if every held its course, they might meet each other inside a couple of minutes.

The AWACS crew didn’t take any possibilities. “As soon as they bought shut sufficient, we ran away, bravely,” he mentioned, noting the Russian planes finally did the identical.

WO Miller mentioned that, as a Canadian accustomed to peacetime, the AWACS missions on the sting of the Ukrainian frontier may be disturbing. Most Canadians haven’t identified battle, but right here he was, flying near Europe’s largest battle for the reason that Second World Struggle. “My fundamental concern is that this battle will unfold,” he mentioned. “When was the final time you lived by way of a pandemic and a battle. In Europe, we’re.”

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