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AWACS Against ISIL

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The deputy commander of the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Control Force (NAEW&CF) gave details Oct. 26 on NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg's announcement the day before of the first alliance airborne warning and control system (AWACS) surveillance flight Oct. 20 in support of the coalition fighting the so-called Islamic State (ISIL).

RAF Air Cdr Paddy Teakle said NATO AWACS flying from it forward operating base in Konya, Turkey, has been providing images from its radar and identification friend or foe interrogator to ensure flight safety of coalition aircraft flying over Syria. The AWACS missions are providing situational awareness of the airspace over western Syria. Teakle described the mission as "complicated" because allied and Russian aircraft are sharing the battlefield for the first time.

He said five NATO AWACS sorties would be flown until Nov. 11, after which they would be increased to nine sorties a month. The missions are being flown over allied airspace and international waters. A typical sortie lasts about five hours because no air-to-air refueling assets are available. Another limitation is that fewer NATO AWACS aircraft are available because they are in the middle of an upgrade to receive glass cockpits, in compliance with European Open Sky and International Civil Aviation Organization standards.

NATO AWACS has already been flying assurance missions since March to reassure eastern alliance members alarmed by a resurgent Russia. The AWACS assurance missions are being reduced by the number of missions against ISIL. As a whole, NATO AWACS fly 70 sorties totalling 500 hours a month, according to Teakle. Some 50 percent of all AWACS flights are devoted to operations.

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