A Royal Australian Air Force E-7A Wedgetail touched down at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany on 19 October to commence a six-month deployment in support of Ukraine.
The deployment, announced by Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese during July’s NATO summit, will provide NATO with an “additional early warning capability” according to Defence Minister Richard Marles.
US, NATO, Swedish and allied Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft (AEW&C), including Turkish Air Force E-7 Peace Eagles, have become a common sight near Ukraine’s borders since Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. There they’ve provided information to both NATO itself and Ukrainian forces, though the extent of information sharing with the latter is not publicly known.
It’s currently unclear if the Australian E-7A will join NATO aircraft in providing intelligence directly to Ukraine. However, according to Marles, the RAAF E-7A will form an important part of the “multiple layers of protection” that are in-place to protect military assistance bound for Ukraine. The aircraft, he said in a statement, will “provide early warning in the event of any threats outside of Ukraine against the gateway for humanitarian and military assistance.”
The aircraft will also play an important role in protecting NATO populations and civilian infrastructure. In September, NATO member Romania reported multiple, apparently accidental, incursions by Russian kamikaze drones into its territory.
The aerial threat to NATO doesn’t just come from Russia either. In March 2022, a low-flying Tu-141 reconnaissance drone, likely launched by Ukraine, crashed in the Croatian capital Zagreb after flying over Hungary and Romania. Later that year a suspected Ukraine S-300 missile, launched to intercept incoming Russian munitions, crashed in Poland killing two.
In the wake of those attacks both Poland and Romania boosted air-defence capabilities along their respective borders with Ukraine. Poland also signed a deal with Saab to acquire two second hand Saab 340 AEW&C aircraft, the first of which was delivered last month.