NATO Deploys AWACS Surveillance Planes to Lithuania Amid Rising Tensions with Russia

In a decisive step to strengthen its defensive posture in the Baltic Sea region, NATO announced on September 28, 2023, that it will be deploying its Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveillance planes to Šiauliai, Lithuania. This deployment comes as a direct response to the escalating Russian military activity near the Alliance's borders.
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NATO deploys Airborne Warning and Control System AWACS surveillance planes to Šiauliai, Lithuania. (Picture source NATO)

The first of the two AWACS aircraft landed in Lithuania on Thursday, September 28, 2023. These planes will be tasked with monitoring missions, specifically targeting Russian military movements in close proximity to NATO territories.

Acting NATO Spokesperson, Dylan White, expressed deep concerns over "Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine," emphasizing the strategic importance of the Baltic Sea region. White further elaborated on the capabilities of the AWACS, stating, “Our AWACS can detect aircraft and missiles hundreds of kilometers away, making them a pivotal early warning system for NATO. We are grateful to Lithuania for hosting these aircraft. Their presence signifies a crucial step towards fortifying our collective security.”

This move by NATO is part of a broader strategy to enhance its air presence in the eastern part of the Alliance. This strategy has been in play, especially after the recent Russian drone strikes near NATO territories. As a testament to this, just last week, the United States deployed an additional four F-16 fighter aircraft to Romania, aiming to strengthen NATO’s air policing mission.

Historically, since February 2022, NATO AWACS have been actively patrolling the skies over Eastern Europe, conducting hundreds of flights to keep a close watch on Russian warplanes.

The upcoming AWACS reconnaissance flights over Alliance territory are slated to commence in the next few days. This mission is anticipated to span several weeks. It's worth noting that these aircraft are part of a larger fleet of 14 NATO-owned surveillance planes stationed in Geilenkirchen, Germany. Accompanying this deployment, approximately 150 military personnel will be stationed in Šiauliai to support the AWACS operations.

The AWACS, or Airborne Warning and Control System, is an advanced airborne surveillance system designed to detect aircraft, ships, and vehicles at long distances. Mounted on a modified Boeing 707 or E-3 Sentry aircraft, its most distinguishing feature is a large rotating radar dome (rotodome) above the fuselage. This radar provides a 360-degree view of the airspace, allowing the AWACS to monitor vast areas and serve as a flying command and control center.

Defense News October 2023