The USAF E-3 Sentry Military Aircraft Radar in Detail

The E-3 Sentry is a high-capability airborne warning and control system (AWACS) developed by Boeing specifically for the United States Air Force (USAF). It has been designed to play a crucial role in the command and control of battlespace operations.

This advanced system enables detecting and identifying aircraft, vessels, missiles, and other targets at long range, which is crucial in aerial confrontation scenarios. The E-3 Sentry is also responsible for coordinating the maneuvers of allied fighters and attack aircraft, providing critical information essential to these operations’ success.

Components and capabilities of the E-3 Sentry in defense operations

The E-3 Sentry is a reliable platform that is capable of performing surveillance, communication, command and control functions under any weather conditions. It was designed based on the Boeing 707 and made its maiden flight in May 1976.

The aircraft entered service in March 1977 and is currently in operation with the USAF, the Royal Saudi Air Force, and NATO, demonstrating its global strategic value. The Royal Air Force (RAF) of the United Kingdom also operated seven units of this model from 1987 to 2020, when the last active aircraft was retired.

Boeing E-3 Sentry Technical Specifications

The technical specifications of the E-3 Sentry highlight its impressive structure and operational capacity:

Specification Measurement
Length 152 feet, 11 inches (46.6 m)
Wingspan 145 feet, 9 inches (44.4 m)
Height 41 ft 4 in (12.6 m)
Wing area 3,050 square feet (283 m²)
Empty weight 185,000 lb (83,915 kg)
Gross weight 344,000 lb (156,036 kg)
Maximum takeoff weight 347,000 lb (157,397 kg)
Powerplant 4 × Pratt & Whitney TF33-PW-100A turbofan
Thrust per engine 21,500 lbf (96 kN)


This particular model was derived from the Boeing 707-320B and features a rotating radar dome, also known as a rotodome, located in the upper section of the fuselage. To optimize the rotodome’s operation, Boeing has made notable improvements to the aircraft’s hydraulic system.

The aircraft has also been equipped with a single-point ground and air refueling system, as well as an emergency parachute system. It is powered by four Pratt & Whitney TF33-PW-100A turbofan engines, each providing a thrust of 21,500 lbf (96 kN), which ensures exceptional takeoff capability.

E-3 Sentry operational capabilities in C2BM missions

Crew Number
Flight crew 4: Aircraft Commander, Pilot, Navigator, Flight Engineer
Mission crew 13–19


Role Description
Role Command and control battle management (C2BM) nerve center
Function Provides precise detection and tracking of targets under various operational conditions


According to the Air Force, “The aircraft provides an accurate, real-time image of the battlespace to the Joint Air Operations Center. The AWACS provides situational awareness of friendly, neutral and hostile activities; manages command and control within an assigned area; coordinates the battle of forces in the theater of operations; performs surveillance of the entire battle space in climatic conditions, adverse events and early warning of enemy actions during coalition, allied and joint operations.

The Air Force can deploy AWACS independently or in coordination with other intelligence platforms to amplify its effectiveness in complex surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Thanks to its unique ability to detect and neutralize air or maritime threats, this aircraft is vital both in supporting air combat operations and executing air task orders.

Employing advanced location and identification systems, the E-3 Sentry can pinpoint and control assets on the battlefield. Information collected on enemy aircraft is securely exchanged with other control platforms through protected data links, guaranteeing effective management and response to any contingency.

Features and capabilities of the rotodome in surveillance operations

The USAF E-3 Sentry Military Aircraft Radar in Detail

  • Diameter: 30 feet (9.1 m)
  • Thickness: 6 feet (1.8 m)
  • Height: 11 feet (3.3 m)

A rotodome is a closed structure designed to withstand adverse weather conditions, effectively protecting the radar antenna located inside. This dome, with a remarkable diameter of 30 feet (9.1 m), is mounted on the modified fuselage of a Boeing 707-300.

Supported by two robust struts, the rotodome enables continuous surveillance of vast land and sea areas from the surface to the stratosphere. Equipped with a long-range radar that reaches up to 220 nautical miles, this system can accurately identify air and ground objects.

According to statements from the Air Force, “The radar has a range of more than 250 miles (375.5 kilometers). Thanks to an identification friend or foe, or IFF, subsystem, the radar can discriminate and track enemy and friendly aircraft at low altitudes, eliminating interference produced by ground clutter that confuses other systems.

Between 1987 and 2007, the USAF implemented multiple upgrades to its E-3 Sentry fleet through the Boeing AWACS Block 30/35 Modification Program:

  • Implementation of ESM technology for active and passive detection and electronic surveillance.
  • Integration of the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS), which ensures fast and secure communications, facilitating the transmission of critical identification and location data to allied platforms.
  • Incorporation of global positioning system (GPS) capability.
  • Modernization of onboard computers to support JTIDS, Link-16 and new ESM systems, increasing flexibility and adaptability for future technological upgrades.

Performance and resistance in operations of the E-3 Sentry

The USAF E-3 Sentry Military Aircraft Radar in Detail
Performance Measurement
Maximum speed 461 knots (531 mph, 854 km/h)
Cruising speed 310 knots (360 mph, 580 km/h) optimal
Operational range 4,000 NM (4,600 mi, 7,400 km)
Endurance More than eight hours without refueling
Service ceiling 29,000 ft (8,800 m) minimum


The AWACS platform stands out for its exceptional performance characteristics, including maximum speed, operational range and remarkable endurance in flight. The aircraft can operate for more than eight hours without the need for aerial refueling, although its autonomy can be extended through in-flight refueling.

Comparatively, the performance capabilities of the E-3 Sentry significantly improve its chances of survival compared to ground-based radar systems, offering the advantage of quickly modifying its flight path according to the needs of each mission.


1. What is the E-3 Sentry?

  • The E-3 Sentry is like a flying radar tower. It helps the Air Force see far away and control what happens in the sky during battles.

2. What does the E-3 Sentry do?

  • It finds and keeps track of planes, ships, and other things from really far away. It also helps pilots work together in battle.

3. How does the E-3 Sentry work?

  • It has a big spinning dome on top that can be seen all around. This dome has a radar inside that can find and follow things in the air or on the ground.

4. Why is the E-3 Sentry important?

  • It helps the Air Force know what’s happening in the sky and helps them make good decisions during battles. It keeps pilots safe and helps them do their jobs better.

5. How long can the E-3 Sentry fly?

  • It can fly for more than eight hours without stopping. If it needs to fly longer, it can get more fuel while it’s in the air.

6. Can the E-3 Sentry defend itself?

  • It’s not made to fight, but it’s built to be really good at avoiding danger. It can change its flight path quickly if it needs to.