E-3D Sentry Airbourne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft of the UK Royal Air Force

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. and NATO air defence forces.

The E-3 Sentry is a modified Boeing 707/320 commercial airframe with a rotating radar dome. The dome is 30 feet (9.1 meters) in diameter, six feet (1.8 meters) thick, and is held 11 feet (3.3 meters) 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 200 miles (320 kilometres) for low-flying targets and farther for aerospace vehicles flying at medium to high altitudes. The radar combined with an identification friend or foe 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.

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 is 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 centres in rear areas or aboard ships. In time of crisis, this data can be forwarded to the National Command Authorities 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 defence 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.

E-3D SENTRY Specifications
Type Airborne warning and control system (AWACS)
Manufacturer Boeing
Accommodation 4 flight crew, 13 mission crew
Armament None
Performance Optimal cruise 384mph, max over 500mph
Wingspan 145ft 9in (44.43m)
Length Length 153ft (46.62m)
Radome Height 41ft 9in (12.5m)
Radome Diameter 30ft (9.1m)
Weight max take off weight 335,000lbs (151,955kgs)
Powerplant Four Pratt and Whitney TF33-PW-100A turbofan engines, thrust 22,000lbs each

Photo Copyright Alasdair Taylor