An airborne early warning and control system is an airborne radar system designed to detect aircraft, ships and vehicles at long ranges and perform control and command of the battle space in an air engagement by directing fighter and attack aircraft strikes. AEW&C units are also used to carry out surveillance, including over ground targets and frequently perform C2BM functions similar to an Airport Traffic Controller given military command over other forces. Used at a high altitude, the radars on the aircraft allow the operators to distinguish between friendly and hostile aircraft hundreds of miles away.
AEW&C aircraft are used for both defensive and offensive air operations, and are to the NATO and USA forces trained or integrated Air Forces what the Command Information Center is to a Navy Warship, plus a highly mobile and powerful radar platform. The system is used offensively to direct fighters to their target locations, and defensively, directing counterattacks on enemy forces, both air and ground.