RAF News

RAF E-3D Sentry aircraft returns to the UK from last operational mission

E-3D Sentry just about to take off from the runway.

A RAF Boeing E-3D Sentry has returned to its home base at RAF Waddington following its final mission on Operation SHADER, bringing to a close 30 years of operational service. 

The E-3D Sentry aircraft flew its final operational sortie on the 30th July over Iraq as part of the counter-Daesh Operation SHADER.  The aircraft from 8 Squadron had been deployed to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and was the latest and last deployment since 2015.

E-3D Sentry on the runway with water arch from emergency vehicles at night.

The aircraft returned to RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire on 4th August and was greeted by Air Vice-Marshal Al Marshall, the Air Officer Commanding Number 1 Group and also Major General Thomas Kunkel United Stated Air Force Commanding Officer of the NATO Airborne Early Warning and Sea Control Force.

Personnel with headset operate the cockpit.

Describing the aircraft’s lengthy service, the Commander of the Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance Force, Air Commodore Hay Commander said: "Sentry’s return from a hugely successful overseas deployment heralds a fitting end to over 30 years of continuous service in support of NATO, other coalition and national operations.  Whether operating from their home base at Waddington or airfields from across Europe and the broader Middle East, Sentry has contributed by providing a Recognised Air and Maritime Picture that has enabled others to operate with significant freedom of action against the most hostile of threats."

"Whilst this moment is undoubtedly the time for all those who enabled Numbers 8, 23 54 and 56 Squadrons’ endeavours in the air to look back with immense pride and satisfaction, we have continued to learn much that will ensure other Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance platforms, including the new Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning aircraft, are able to maintain a significant operational edge going forwards."

Air Commodore Hay
Commander of the Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance Force

E-3D Sentry on the runway, bright strobe lights the runway.

The E-3D Sentry entered RAF service in March 1991 as part of the RAF’s Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance fleet.  Since then the Sentry aircraft have been involved in UK operations including Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, the broader Middle East and the Caribbean, together with a NATO role.  The Sentry is also known as the Airborne Warning and Control System or AWACS.

This recent deployment has seen operational sorties being flown on Operation SHADER, and also sorties to support Operation FORTIS, the deployment of HMS Queen Elizabeth and the Carrier Strike Group.

Personnel stand by the E-3D Sentry.

Describing its most recent missions, Officer Commanding 8 Squadron, Wing Commander Victoria Williams said: "The deployment of the Sentry fleet to RAF Akrotiri in support of the maiden operational deployment of the Queen Elizabeth Aircraft Carrier and operations in the Middle-East has been a resounding success.  This was the first operational detachment of the fleet since 2016 and involved a Whole Force of RAF, Reservists and contractors to deliver 30 missions in 9 weeks.  The Sentry was able to provide the recognised air and surface picture to the Carrier Strike Group to facilitate its safe transit from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Suez."

The E-3D Sentry will be retired later this year and will be replaced in 2023 by a fleet of three Boeing E-7 Wedgetails that will operate from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland.  During the period between retirement and the Wedgetail becoming operational, the Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance requirements will be covered by a combination of other aircraft and E-3s from our NATO partners.

"The skills and experience of Sentry crews, particularly those developed through working closely with naval assets during this deployment, will now be re-invested.  The E-7 Wedgetail programme will enter service in 2023, replacing Sentry as the RAF’s Airborne Early Warning and Airborne Command & Control platform."

Wing Commander Williams
Officer Commanding 8 Squadron

E-3D Sentry taking off.

Reflecting on the return of the E-3D Sentry to RAF Waddington, Group Captain O’Dell, the Deputy Head Capability at the Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance Force Headquarters said: "I am exceptionally proud to have been associated with Sentry in a variety of operational aircrew, training, test and support roles since it entered service in 1991; Sentry has defined my career and it is inevitably with mixed feelings I now find myself involved with its retirement."

"However, all E-3D aircrew, ground-crew and supporting civilians should feel justifiably proud of the enormous contribution it has made to NATO and UK Air Policing, combat and humanitarian operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya, as well as countering drug-smuggling in the Caribbean."

Group Captain O’Dell
Deputy Head Capability, Intelligence, Surveillance, Targeting and Reconnaissance

E-3D Sentry on the runway with water arch from emergency vehicles.

The aircraft that returned on the 4th August was the second of two aircraft from 8 Squadron that had been conducting Operations in the Eastern Mediterranean region, the other aircraft returned earlier to RAF Waddington where it was greeted by a traditional water arch.

Below is a video with footage of the RAF E-3D Sentry flying its final operational sortie.

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