AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System) surveillance aircraft from NATO have been deployed to Lithuania’s Šiauliai Air Base for the first time, in order to monitor Russian military activity close to the alliance’s borders.
“Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has increased our focus on the security environment in the Baltic Sea region,” said acting NATO Spokesperson Dylan White in a statement released on September 28, 2023. “Our AWACS can detect aircraft and missiles hundreds of kilometers away, making them a key early warning capability for NATO. I thank Lithuania for hosting the aircraft. This is an important contribution to our shared security.”
Originating from their home base in Geilenkirchen, Germany, these AWACS aircraft are part of an elite fleet of 14 surveillance planes owned by NATO. These aircraft are specifically designed and equipped to monitor airspace activities, detect potential threats, and provide real-time intelligence to the alliance.
The AWACS can stay airborne for eight and a half hours at an altitude of 9,000 meters and survey an area as big as 315,000 square kilometers (the approximate size of Poland).
Around 150 military personnel will also be stationed in Šiauliai to support the aircraft. The AWACS will begin reconnaissance flights over alliance territory in the coming days, with the mission set to last several weeks.
NATO has significantly increased its air presence in the alliance’s eastern flank as a response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. The deployment of fighter jets, surveillance planes and tankers is part of this enhancement. Recent Russian drone strikes near NATO territories received a swift response, with the US deploying four additional F-16 fighter aircraft to Romania on September 22, 2023, further bolstering NATO’s air policing mission.