NATO’s first wide-area ground-surveillance unmanned aircraft is on display in Warsaw, Poland, for the alliance’s ongoing Summit.

A modified Northrop Grumman [NOC] Global Hawk, the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system is the alliance’s first organic high-altitude, long-endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability.

The milestone is the culmination of a program that began 20 years ago when NATO developed requirements for a high-altitude ground surveillance capability. The first aircraft is scheduled to fly in August and will then be ferried to Sigonella, Italy, where it will be based alongside U.S. Air Force and Navy versions of the Global Hawks.


“AGS is the first NATO owned-and-operated ground surveillance system, using state-of-the-art sensors and information knowledge management systems,” Col. Pedro Renn, NATO AGS Force Commander, said in a statement. “AGS will be available to all Alliance members and will be a key capability for Alliance strategic anticipation.

Initial operational capability (IOC) is set for midyear 2017 and the system will become fully operational in 2018. The ground control system will roll out in the fourth quarter of this year followed by the mobile versions in 2016.

The AGS Summit display is the first time the deployable elements of the system have come together. Both air and ground elements have entered into the formal test phase of their development process.

NATO eventually will operate a fleet of five AGS aircraft and mobile ground stations from Sigonella, where at least 600 uniformed and civilian NATO personnel will be stationed there to operate and maintain the fleet.

The aircraft is designed to fulfill NATO’s ISR requirements for multinational theater operations, peacekeeping missions, and disaster relief efforts. Its primary payload will be the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP) sensor and supporting ground elements.

The aircraft’s flight test program is underway at Edwards Air Force Base in California. At Sigonella, the aircraft will undergo another full flight test and evaluation campaign before being declared operational.

Northrop Grumman’s AGS industry team includes Airbus Defence and Space, Leonardo and Kongsberg, as well as leading defense companies from the participating nations. 

“I’m honored that the AGS is being presented by the operational community to the nations’ leaders at the Summit,” said Brian Chappel, vice president of autonomous systems, Northrop Grumman. “As part of the transatlantic industry team we have had the pleasure to work with for the past four years, Northrop Grumman is truly proud to witness the transition of the system from the development to the operational phase. This success could only have been achieved through the commitment of the entire AGS team partnership – both government and industry – working across cultures, time zones and languages, leveraging national capabilities with the goal of providing the Alliance with this critical capability.”