Boeing delivered the last of fourteen upgraded E-3A AWACS to NATO on December 18, 2018.

The avionics upgrade program began in 2016 and includes new communication, navigation, surveillance and air traffic management (CNS / ATM) systems that will allow them to operate in accordance with European air traffic controls. The upgraded aircraft also received a digital cockpit, with “five full-color digital displays, replacing 1970’s-era dials and provides crewmembers with customizable engine, navigation and radar data,” according to Boeing.

The first aircraft was retrofitted in Boeing’s facility in Seattle, United States, while the work on the remaining 13 aircraft was completed on the Airbus Defense and Space site in Manching, Germany.

An Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) is a radar station mounted on a plane or an helicopter that can monitor large airspace and serve as command posts for air operations or anti-aircraft operations. It allows the detection low altitude vehicles, as it is not affected by terrain.

The fourteen E-3As are based in the NATO Air Base Geilenkirchen, in Germany, and are part of the Airborne Early Warning & Control Force, the first and so far the only flying unit with multinational manning within the alliance.

Between 2011 and 2014, the E-3As were deployed in Afghanistan to provide assistance to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the Operation Afghan Assist. The AWACS were used to coordinate NATO air traffic in Afghanistan, from combat aircraft and helicopters providing ground support, to logistics flights.

The first serial produced Il-76MD-90A (codename IL-476), a heavily upgraded version of the Ilyushin Il-76 military transport plane, achieved its debut flight on November 7, 2018.