San Diego Union-Tribune

October 11, 2001

NATO aircraft to patrol skies over America


WASHINGTON -- NATO is dispatching five AWACS early-warning aircraft with primarily European crews to fly protective missions over the United States during the war on terrorism. It is a dramatic reversal of roles:
For 52 years, the United States has been committing its military might to safeguard Europe.

The five E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft will be ready to fly operational patrols tomorrow and will be available "as long as the United States requires it," NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said yesterday.

The European-crewed jets will replace some of the U.S. Air Force AWACS planes that have been guiding fighter patrols over parts of the United States since Sept. 11, freeing the U.S. planes to support the air war in Afghanistan.

The 24 U.S. AWACS are among the most chronically overworked military assets.

President Bush called the deployment to the United States of North Atlantic Treaty Organization military forces "an unprecedented display of friendship."

"This has never happened before, that NATO has come to help defend our country. But it happened in this time of need, and for that we're grateful," Bush told Robertson after a White House meeting.

In a speech earlier in the day, Robertson said many Americans probably worried when the United States signed the NATO mutual-defense agreement
in 1949 that it would require U.S. troops to fight once again to defend Europe.

Those Americans "never could have guessed that this commitment would actually be invoked for the first time 52 years later, after an attack on the soil of the United States of America," said Robertson, NATO's top civilian leader.

Robertson noted that the decision by NATO's governing council to invoke Article 5, which declares that an attack on one ally is considered an attack on
all, took only six hours of deliberation. It came within 28 hours of the terrorist attacks.

Although some NATO nations routinely use U.S. bases to train their air crews, this is the first time the alliance has deployed any of its aircraft for operations in the United States.

"It is a sensible way in which we can show solidarity, and it also is a military requirement that we're glad to fulfill," Robertson said.

The five AWACS jets and a support aircraft are flying from their NATO base in Geilenkirchen, Germany, to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. About 153 service members and civilian support technicians are coming from 11 of the 18 allies. The largest contingents are from Germany, with 55;
Canada, with 22, and Belgium and Italy with 11 each. The NATO crews also include 74 Americans.

The E-3 is a four-engine jet adapted from the Boeing 707 airliner. The rotating saucer radar antenna on top of the aircraft can find and track scores of aircraft within a radius of more than 200 miles. Up to 19 radar operators, analysts, aircraft controllers, mission commanders and equipment technicians work at banks of high-tech consoles in the cabin.

With double crews of pilots, the AWACS can stay airborne for more than 12 hours.

In a combat situation, the technicians track enemy aircraft and direct friendly fighters in for an attack. AWACS planes also help fighters rendezvous with
aerial tankers for in-flight refueling.

Responsibility for defense of U.S. and Canadian airspace lies with the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The AWACS planes will bolster
NORAD patrols instituted after the Sept. 11 attacks.