The air war is underway at RED FLAG-Alaska 18-1. But fifty miles southwest and ten thousand feet above the dog fighting, a NATO E-3A Component jet circles in its flight pattern, soaking up signals and squawks about the fluid battle space below and providing friendly forces a watchful "eye in the sky" that extends in every direction for hundreds of miles.
As a NATO unit, Airmen from around the world work the rows of screens and scopes in the middle of the aircraft, their country's respective flag adorning their shoulders. Everyone stares intently at their screen, all of them sharing the common goal of identifying and calling out new targets as they appear on the scope. The mission crew is comprised of a surveillance team, a weapons team, and airborne technicians; they are responsible to the tactical director, who is the senior member of the mission crew.