The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) on Wednesday divulged plans of upgrading their ageing fleet of E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes for $1 billion.
“I can confirm we will sign a contract upgrading, modernising the AWACS fleet – $1 billion dollars,” Jens Stoltenberg, NATO chief, said at a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels.
NATO is currently looking for a successor for the 14 obsolete AWACS planes, due to be phased out 2035. Boeing 707s were converted into these planes by equipping them with long-range radar and sensors to enable them to early warning of aircraft, helicopters and missiles.
"We are also now looking how to replace the AWACS fleet in the future after 2035," the NATO chief said.
The alliance has, till date, spent $6.8 billion on the AWACS program. NATO would need to take costly steps to keep the aircraft, having a distinctive radar dome on the fuselage, flying even longer.
A possible aircraft for replacement of the ageing planes could be the Boeing E-7 aircraft, which has been acquired by Turkey and Britain. “The E-7 aircraft are large enough to add potential new capabilities, such as operating drones for expanded surveillance in the coming years,” said Michael Gschossmann, general manager of NATO agency that manages AWACS aircraft fleet, in June 2019.
Additionally, NATO is set to receive first of its total five ordered Global Hawk high-altitude surveillance drones soon.