BRUSSELS – A Boeing [BA] E-3A Sentry Airborne early Warning and Control (AWACS) aircraft belonging to NATO will deploy to Iraq in support of the coalition fight against Islamic State militants.
Many of the 28 NATO nations have made individual contributions to the U.S.-led campaign’s two major efforts: training Iraqi troops to conduct a ground offensive and an international air campaign in support of their struggle.
At an alliance ministerial in Brussels on the week of June 13 Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg pushed for increased involvement as an international organization. The E-3A fleet that will provide situational awareness and command-and-control functions over Iraq is a NATO alliance capability. The fleet is organic to the organization rather than any individual member state.
“I’d like to see NATO do more,” Carter said June 15 during a press conference wrapping up the ministerial. The AWACs deployment and a proposal to boost NATO involvement in training Iraqi troops will be affirmed at the major alliance Summit in Warsaw in July.
“As I said after our last ministerial, in February, it’s worth exploring how NATO as an organization could make a meaningful contribution to the coalition,” Carter said. “Here, at this ministerial, we discussed some specific ways NATO could contribute more directly to the counter-ISIL campaign… including by providing NATO AWACS aircraft, and by conducting training and defense capacity building for the Iraqi Security Forces in Iraq, rather than in Jordan.”
The E-3A fleet is NATO’s first integrated, multi-national flying unit, providing rapid deployability, airborne surveillance, command, control and communication for NATO operations, according to the alliance’s website.
Their deployment will help the coalition construct and maintain a continuous picture of air and ground operations in Iraq. It also will improve the communications and information-sharing interoperability of the member nations involved, Carter said.
“The secretary general has been very articulate about the ways in which NATO, as NATO, can make the whole greater than the sum of the parts,” Carter said. “It has force-generation capability. It has the ability for smaller nations to have a way of plugging into the coalition more easily. So there are a lot of advantages to having NATO involved in the counter-ISIL campaign…It’s very important for all of us to have a continuous air picture both as an alliance…and because of our air operations in order to make sure they are safe and effective.”