The latest model of the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System has arrived in Southwest Asia for its first combat deployment, officials said.

The first E-3 with the Block 40/45 upgrade arrived in the U.S. Central Command theater of operations Nov. 18, and more aircraft will be deployed there gradually, said Darren Heusel, a spokesman at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

The E-3 is currently assigned to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, which operates aircraft from "multiple undisclosed locations in the region," said Col. Tad Sholtis, a spokesman for Air Combat Command.

"It's a regional asset for wide-ranging command-and-control battle management, surveillance, target detection, and tracking, so depending on the requirements for any given day it has supported and can support multiple missions in the CENTCOM area of responsibility, to include Operation Inherent Resolve, air defense of the Arabian Gulf and operations in Afghanistan," Sholtis said in an email to Air Force Times.

Nine E-3s have received the $2.7 billion in upgrades for the Block 40/45 systems, according to a Nov. 19 Tinker Air Force Base news release.

"What the upgrade does is replace some hardware and software on the E-3 and takes computing capability from 1970s technology to current day," Col David Gaedecke, commander of the 552nd Air Control Wing, said. "Tied with the Deployable Ground System, the upgraded system allows both operators and intelligence personnel capabilities far beyond the older model Block 30/35."

The new modifications automate functions that E-3 crew members previously had to do manually, he said in an email Monday to Air Force Times. With the changes, aircrews will be able to share more data with U.S., NATO and allied commanders.

"The changes improve communications, computer processing power, threat tracking and other capabilities," Gaedecke said. "The Block 40/45 provides operational and technological reliability, maintainability, supportability, and integration of future technologies and growth opportunities."

The E-3 can provide information needed for close-air support, reconnaissance and interdiction missions, he said. As an air defense system, it can detect and track enemy aircraft and direct U.S. or allied fighters to intercept them.

"What the E-3 brings to the fight in the area of battle management, command and control is essential to our combatant commanders, both in the air and on the ground," Gaedecke said. "The upgrades allow our crews to be able to process tactical information more readily and provide our combatant commanders with increased situational awareness."