NATO has begun testing the first of five new RQ-4D Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) drones through a number of flights over the Mediterranean Sea earlier this month, advancing the alliance’s implementation of the aircraft, which activists have argued is potentially dangerous for civilians in the area. It was initially thought that delays related to the COVID-19 novel coronavirus would severely impact the test schedule for the first drone. However, it remains unclear whether NATO will be successful in obtaining airworthiness clearance from Italian regulators, which would allow the aircraft to traverse the rest of Europe’s airspace.
Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) is a NATO programme to acquire an airborne ground surveillance capability (Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program on the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk). In a similar fashion as with Strategic Airlift Capability the program is run by 15 NATO member states: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States. AGS was scheduled to reach initial operational capability by the end of 2017 with a main operating base at Sigonella Air Base, Italy.
The first AGS ferry flight from the United States to Italy marks the implementation of a key multinational project for the procurement of state-of-the art equipment. AGS is being developed with significant contributions from 15 Allies – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States. 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, RQ-4D Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) is a custom-made system specifically designed to meet the surveillance requirements identified by the North Atlantic Council and SACEUR. The 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.