On 17 January 2023, three NATO Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveillance aircraft started their mission patrolling the skies over Romania. NATO had previously on 12 January announced that AWACS aircraft would be based at Otopeni airport in Romania for several weeks. The location was selected due to Romania’s proximity to Ukraine.
Two of the aircraft observed over Romania were E-3A Sentry aircraft (Callsigns: NATO1 and NATO2), out of Geilenkirchen in Germany, where 14 such aircraft are based. However, the third aircraft noted was an E-3B (Callsign: NATO11) based out of Konya in Turkey. NATO AWACS aircraft have been conducting regular patrols over Eastern Europe and the Baltic Sea region since February 2022 to track Russian warplanes near NATO borders. As a further measure, NATO has increased its air presence in Eastern Europe with additional fighters, surveillance aircraft and tankers.
It is unconfirmed how many of the 14 total aircraft in the Geilenkirchen fleet are due to operate from Otopeni Air Base near Bucharest, but the Romania deployment may include the two from Geilenkirchen and the one from Konya, which would comprise includes a staff of approximately 180 personnel. Otopeni is located around 195 km from Ukraine’s border, and is much closer to Russian-held areas of Ukraine, while Geilenkirchen is located approximately 1,200 km from Ukraine’s Western border. As such, this forward deployment saves considerable flight time. The AWACS’ signature feature, the disc-shaped radome houses the AN/APY-1 search radar, which is reported to have a range of around 400 km, and due to the aircraft’s typical operating altitude, will even be able to stop low-flying targets.