NATO Secretary General visits Alliance Ground Surveillance aircraft in Italy

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the arrival of two Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) remotely piloted aircraft at a ceremony in Sigonella, Italy on Friday (17 January 2020). The Secretary General outlined the importance of the AGS system, which will enable commanders to identify threats and view conditions on the ground, in any weather. “One single drone can watch over a territory with the comparable size of Poland,” he said.

The new unarmed surveillance aircraft can also fly for over 30 hours at a time. “It can reach the High North and the Sahel, the Middle East and the Atlantic,” said the Secretary General. When all five NATO RQ-4D aircraft “Phoenix” will be operational, the Alliance will be able to monitor and help protect two large regions around the clock. The AGS system will be collectively owned and operated by all NATO Allies. All Allies will benefit from the intelligence derived from AGS surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Addressing military officials and industry, the Secretary General thanked Italy for hosting the AGS system, and praised the commanders at Sigonella Air Base. “Today, NATO is filling an important intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability gap,” he said. He also congratulated the NATO AGS Management Organization and the NATO AGS Management Agency for the delivery of this milestone.

Six hundred personnel from across the Alliance will operate the AGS system. “They are our newest force,” said Mr Stoltenberg. He stressed that AGS is a visible demonstration of NATO’s commitment to innovation.

NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS)

Alliance Ground Surveillance will be collectively owned and operated by all NATO Allies and will be a vital capability for NATO operations and missions. All Allies will have access to data acquired by AGS, and will benefit from the intelligence derived from the surveillance and reconnaissance missions that AGS will undertake.

With its ground elements, AGS is a custom-made system specifically designed to meet the surveillance requirements identified by the North Atlantic Council and SACEUR.  The AGS NATO RQ-4D remotely piloted aircraft is based on the US Air Force block 40 Global Hawk. It has been uniquely adapted to NATO requirements, to provide a state-of-the art Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capability to NATO, to the benefit of all NATO Allies.

The NATO AGS program includes five NATO RQ-4D remotely piloted aircraft. All five are currently performing different stages of developmental test flights. Once each of the aircraft arrives at the Main Operating Base in Sigonella, a verification phase will start, in order to ensure full compliance of the system. The entire AGS system will be handed over to the NATO AGS Force once it has completed all its testing and performance verification. Initial operational capability is expected for the first half of 2020.

The first aircraft NATO RQ-4D arrived in Italy on November 21, 2019, the second NATO RQ-4D arrived in Sigonella on Decembre 19, 2019.