E-3 Sentry

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E-3 Sentry
Missing image

The United States Air Force's E-3 Sentry
RoleAirborne Warning and Control System (AWACS)
CrewFlight crew of 4, plus 13-19 mission specialists
First FlightOctober 1975
Entered ServiceMarch 1977
Length152 ft 11 in44.61 m
Wingspan145 ft 9 in44.42 m
Height41 ft 4 in12.6 m
Wing Area3,050 ft²283.4 m²
Empty162,000 lb73,480 kg
Loaded325,000 lb147,400 kg
Maximum Takeoff347,000 lb156,000 kg
EnginesUS/NATO: Four Pratt and Whitney TF33-PW-100A turbofan engines

UK/FRANCE/SAUDI: Four CFM-56-2A-2/3 turbofan engines

Thrust (P&W)4 x 21,000 lbf4 x 93 kN
Thrust (CFM)4 x 24,000 lbf4 x 107 kN
Maximum Speed530 mph855 km/h
Combat Range1,000 miles1,610 km
Ferry Range miles km
Service Ceiling29,000 ft9,000 m
Rate of Climb ft/min m/min
Wing Loading lb/ft² kg/m²

The E-3 Sentry is an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft that provides all-weather surveillance, command, control and communications needed by commanders of U.S., NATO and other allied air defense forces. As proven in Operation Allied Force, it is the premier air battle command and control aircraft in the world today.



The E-3 Sentry is a modified Boeing 707-320 commercial airframe with a rotating radar dome. The dome is 30 feet (9.1 m) in diameter, six feet (1.8 m) thick, and is held 14 feet (4.2 m) above the fuselage by two struts. It contains a radar subsystem that permits surveillance from the Earth's surface up into the stratosphere, over land or water. The radar has a range of more than 250 miles (375 km) for low-flying targets and beyond the horizon (approximately 400 miles, although the actual range is classified) for aerospace vehicles flying at medium to high altitudes. The radar combined with an IFF subsystem can look down to detect, identify and track enemy and friendly low-flying aircraft by eliminating ground clutter returns that confuse other radar systems.

The E-3 fleet completed its largest upgrade in 2001. Known as the Block 30/35 Modification Program, the upgrade includes four enhancements:

  • Electronic Support Measures (ESM) for passive detection, an electronic surveillance capability to detect and identify air and surface-based emitters.
  • Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS) to provide secure, anti-jam communication for information distribution, position location and identification capabilities.
  • An increase in the memory capability in the computer to accommodate JTIDS, EMS and future enhancements.
  • Global Positioning System (GPS), a satellite-based positioning capability to provide precise global navigation.

Other major subsystems in the E-3 are navigation, communications and computers (data processing). Consoles display computer-processed data in graphic and tabular format on video screens. Console operators perform surveillance, identification, weapons control, battle management and communications functions.

The radar and computer subsystems on the E-3 Sentry can gather and present broad and detailed battlefield information. Data are collected as events occur. This includes position and tracking information on enemy aircraft and ships, and location and status of friendly aircraft and naval vessels. The information can be sent to major command and control centers in rear areas or aboard ships. In times of crisis, these data can be forwarded to the National Command Authority in the United States.

In support of air-to-ground operations, the Sentry can provide direct information needed for interdiction, reconnaissance, airlift and close-air support for friendly ground forces. It can also provide information for commanders of air operations to gain and maintain control of the air battle.

As an air defense system, E-3s can detect, identify and track airborne enemy forces far from the boundaries of the United States or NATO countries. It can direct fighter-interceptor aircraft to these enemy targets.

Experience has proven that the E-3 Sentry can respond quickly and effectively to a crisis and support worldwide military deployment operations. It is a jam-resistant system that has performed missions while experiencing heavy electronic countermeasures (ECM).

With its mobility as an airborne warning and control system (AWACS), the Sentry has a greater chance of surviving in warfare than a fixed, ground-based radar system. Among other things, the flight path can quickly be changed according to mission and survival requirements. The E-3 can fly a mission profile for more than 8 hours without refueling. Its range and on-station time can be increased through inflight refueling and the use of an on-board crew rest area.

The aircraft are used as a surveillance asset in support of counter drug missions. U.S. Customs Service officers may fly aboard the E-3 Sentry on precoordinated missions to detect smuggling activities.

Engineering, test and evaluation began on the first E-3 Sentry in October 1975. In March 1977 the 552nd Airborne Warning and Control Wing (now 552nd Air Control Wing, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma), received the first E-3s.

Air Combat Command has 28 E-3s at Tinker, two at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, and two at Kadena AB, Japan. Pacific Air Forces has four E-3 Sentries assigned to the 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron (AACS), Kadena AB and the 962nd AACS, Elmendorf AFB.

Other NATO member nations have acquired 18 E-3A's and support equipment. The first NATO E-3 was delivered in January 1982. Presently 17 NATO E-3A's are in the inventory, one being lost to a crash at take-off (no fatalities). The United Kingdom has seven E-3s, which it designates the AEW Mk.1, France has four and Saudi Arabia has five. Japan has four Boeing 767-based AWACS aircraft. The UK RAF order followed expensive unsuccessful trials of a domestic product, the BAe Nimrod AEW3.

E-3 Sentry aircraft were among the first to deploy during Operation Desert Shield where they immediately established an around-the-clock radar screen to defend against Iraqi forces. During Desert Storm, E-3s flew more than 400 missions and logged more than 5,000 hours of on-station time. They provided radar surveillance and control to more than 120,000 coalition sorties. In addition to providing senior leadership with time-critical information on the actions of enemy forces, E-3 controllers assisted in 38 of the 40 air-to-air kills recorded during the conflict.

The data collection capability of the E-3 radar and computer subsystems allowed an entire air war to be recorded for the first time in the history of aerial warfare.

In March 1996, the US Air Force activated the 513th Air Control Group, an AWACS Reserve Associate Program unit, which performs duties on active-duty aircraft.

During the spring of 1999, the first AWACS aircraft went through the Radar System Improvement Program (RSIP). RSIP is a joint U.S./NATO development program that involves a major hardware and software-intensive modification to the existing radar system. Installation of RSIP will enhance the operational capability of the E-3 radar electronic counter-measures, and dramatically improve the system's reliability, maintainability and availability. U.S. installation of RSIP was completed in fiscal year 2004.

The E-3 is slated to be replaced (along with the EC-135 and the E-8 Joint STARS) by the E-10 MC2A, based upon the Boeing 767-400ER airframe.

Units using the Sentry

United States Air Force

The United States Air Force purchased 24 E-3Bs and 10 E-3Cs. One E-3B crashed after ingesting several Canadian geese into two engines at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. One is on loan to Boeing Integrated Defense Systems. 28 E-3s are stationed at Tinker AFB, 2 are at Elmendorf, and 2 are at Kadena AFB, in Japan.

Royal Air Force

Purchased 7, named Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Dopey, Bashful and Doc.

Armée de l'Air

Purchased 4 E-3F

Royal Saudi Air Force

Purchased 5 E-3D

North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)

Purchased 18, one lost in Greece

  • Squadron 1
  • Squadron 2
  • Squadron 3

Units Using the Boeing E-767

The Boeing 707 platform is no longer in production, so the E-767 contains the E-3 Sentry mission package on a newer Boeing 767 platform.

Japan Self-Defense Forces

  • Japan Air Self-Defense Force
Modern USAF Series Miscellaneous
E-3 Sentry Fighter--F-15/E ,F-16KC-10,-135
E-4B Electronic--E-3,-4B,-8C EC-130E/J,HHC-130P/N
E-8C Joint Stars Transport--C-5,-17,-141B, -20,-21MC-130E/H/P
EC-130E/EC-130J C-22B, -32, -130, -37A, -40B/CMH-53J/M
EC-130H Compass Call Trainers--T-1, -37, -38, -43, -6HH-60G
Weather--WC-130, -135UH-1N
UAV--RQ-1/MQ-1 UAV, Global HawkU-2S/TU-2S

Lists of Aircraft | Aircraft manufacturers | Aircraft engines | Aircraft engine manufacturers

Airports | Airlines | Air forces | Aircraft weapons | Missiles | Timeline of aviation

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