March 2024 | Retrospect by the Technical Airworthiness Authority Staff

NE-3A is a Team Sport!

The December 2023 SKYWATCH issue featured details about the Final Lifetime Extension Programme (FLEP), a major modernisation activity that will assure the operational capability of the NE-3A fleet until its planned retirement in 2035. With the recently announced acquisition of a fleet of E-7 aircraft, both programmes support NATO's long-term vision for an operationally, high-performance Airborne Early Warning System.

Central to the team effort is the NATO Programme Management Agency (NAPMA), which executes modernisation projects based on operational mission needs from the NAEW&C Force Headquarters. At the same time, the Force Headquarters is supported by the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), the NATO Communications and Information Agency (NCIA) and other entities, to sustain the NE-3A Weapon System. Although this division of effort seems simple, there is an underlying broader truth: our multi-disciplined, multi-organisation NE-3A Enterprise surpasses traditional organisational models and operates as one combined network of stakeholders, united in a common goal. Most importantly, this underscores that we must work together as ‘one coherent team’ for us to be successful.

In relation to national military or acquisition entities, the foundation structure of our enterprise relies fundamentally on an Airworthiness and Configuration Management System, where no NATO model exists. So to overcome this, NAPMA and the NAEW&C Force employ a unique strategy that facilitates the sustainment and modernisation of the entire NE-3A Weapon System’s operational capability, while simultaneously ensuring that operational and technical airworthiness are maintained to the highest standards. At the heart of this lies an indispensable and unique collaborative culture, which leverages best practices from our NATO Nations and industry, along with the skillsets and experiences that each individual in our workforce brings to the effort.

As our workforce is quite dynamic, and normally rotates every three to four years, many of us only have the opportunity to capture a glimpse of the life-cycle of this complex Weapon System, so continuity is a scarce luxury. As an illustrative example, the FLEP Programme itself covers a span of roughly ten years, which equates to three personnel rotations.

Despite these challenges, the evolution of the NE-3A Weapon System over the past four decades has been complemented by our enterprise’s ability to adapt, improve and align with mission needs. Fundamentally, this “power of the enterprise” work spirit permeates every level of activity, from the daily grind of aircraft technicians to the strategic execution of modernisation programmes and long-term support contracts.

In essence, the journey of the NE-3A fleet's enhancement is a narrative of collective effort and forward thinking, without a textbook to guide us, and it underscores the significance of collaboration across all echelons of the NAEW&C Enterprise. As NATO looks towards 2035 and beyond, the Alliance does so with the confidence that its Airborne Early Warning and Control capabilities will remain a cornerstone of its joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (JISR) capability.

Thank You! - to the unwavering commitment to excellence by the myriad of individuals across the NAEW&C Enterprise that make this possible.

NATO E-3A Weapon System Single Configuration Control Board (SCCB) #37, held on 29 February 2024, Co-Chaired by Maj Gen Thomas Kunkel, the Operational Airworthiness Authority, and Brig Gen Michael Gschossmann, the Technical Airworthiness Authority
© 2024 - Photo by: Mr. James Voeten, NAPMA

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