Boeing E-7A: How Can Russia Counter NATO's New AWACS Aircraft?
NATO has recently announced its intent to upgrade the military bloc’s aging fleet of E-3A AWACS early warning and control aircraft.
The construction of six Boeing E-7A aircraft equipped with powerful radars is expected to begin soon, with the first of these planes slated to be ready for service by 2031, according to a recent NATO statement.
Commenting on this development, Russian military analyst Dmitry Kornev suggested that this move by NATO likely wasn’t meant as some sort of signal to the nations the bloc regards as adversaries.
“Their hardware, no matter how you upgrade or retrofit it, has become outdated. The radars are old, the computers are old and heavy,” he said, noting that electronics have become much more advanced since these aircraft entered service a few decades ago. “This is just an aircraft replacement program.”
The new E-7A would allow NATO to “see” deep into Russia’s territory (up to 300 kilometers) without entering Russian airspace, and the new upgraded equipment aboard these planes would let NATO officers better identify the types of aircraft and ground units they spy on, Kornev said.
“Such planes would see farther, see more targets and identify them more accurately, and it would relay orders and information to all subordinate units. It can call up additional aircraft, it can relay targeting data to missile systems, warships, submarines, etc. Each such aircraft is a powerful airborne HQ that has firsthand access to information,” he explained.
According to Kornev, there are several ways Russia can counter the deployment of these NATO early warning aircraft near its borders.
For example, Russia's military can obfuscate its activities by actively using camouflage and electronic countermeasures to hamper the E-7A's intelligence-gathering activities.
Also, if it becomes necessary, Russian forces’ formidable surface-to-air and air-to-air missile capabilities afford them the ability to shoot down such planes out of the sky, Kornev suggested.
Describing these scenarios as “direct countermeasures,” the analyst also mentioned the “indirect countermeasures” that essentially amount to Russia developing a similar aircraft.
Having noted that Russia has already “upgraded somewhat” its existing A-50 early warning aircraft, Kornev pointed out that the Beriev Aircraft Company is expected to soon roll out the new A-100, which is expected to succeed the A-50.
“It is an aircraft based on the latest model of the Il-76MD-90A transport aircraft. It is a new Il-76 with a fully digital cockpit, with new engines, made completely in Russia,” he said.
Kornev also remarked that the Russian military is well aware of how foreign countries’ signal intelligence works and has been drilled to counter such eavesdropping attempts: “If a satellite passes overhead, hide your hardware under some kind of roof; If a Western aircraft passes nearby, stop all radio communications.”
“It was a bit easier during the Soviet era when there were fewer satellites in space. Nowadays, there’s always some kind of satellite above you, not to mention commercial satellites,” he said. “You cannot hide from all of them, but you still need to constantly enact countermeasures. Such activities help tremendously in concealing from enemy intelligence the preparations of our army and navy for any kind of operations.”