BRUSSELS — NATO hopes to deploy AWACS aircraft to the Middle East as early as October to support the US-led coalition's fight against the Islamic State group, a top NATO official said Monday.
Once deployed to the Middle East, the E-3A Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft will conduct surveillance and gather intelligence, which will be shared across members of the coalition, Alexander Vershbow, NATO deputy general, told reporters during a briefing at NATO headquarters.
"The basic plans are agreed with in the alliance. The assets have been identified that can perform the mission," he said. "They will provide additional data for the overall air picture that supports coalition operations."
NATO is not a member of the coalition battling ISIS, and thus has no direct involvement in airstrikes being carried out in Syria and Iraq. However, the demand for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance have outpaced the coalition's capacity, and NATO's small fleet of 16 E-3 planes could provide an "added value," Vershbow said.
The alliance organization first announced plans to use its AWACS in the fight against ISIS this July during the Warsaw Summit. However, operations have been held up as individual governments decide whether to give the green light to pilots and crew from their nation participating in the deployments.
"The nations who have personnel on those aircraft in some cases have to go through some clearance and parliamentary approvals," Vershbow explained. "I think that should unfold within the next few weeks. We have defense ministers meeting here at the end of October, I think the hope is the mission will be underway at that time."
The AWACS aircraft will not be involved in battle management because the organization is not taking part of the "kinetic aspects of coalition operations." Vershbow declined to comment on where the aircraft will be based.
Earlier this year, NATO AWACS aircraft deployed to Konya, Turkey, as part of security assurance measures in light of increasing Russian activity along the Syria-Turkey border.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.