All-Seeing Airborne Base

The E-3A Sentry, with its Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), is not outwardly impressive: an unremarkable Boeing 707 with a rotating disc, 30 ft. in diameter, mounted gawkily on its fuselage. The Sentry is outfitted with not a single gun or missile, and as jets go it is neither very fast (530 m.p.h. maximum) nor maneuverable. But packed on board is an incredibly sophisticated computerized radar system that makes each Sentry a $150 million mobile air-traffic control center. A state-of-the-art AWACS can, in any weather, track all aircraft and naval vessels (though...

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