For the first time, the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) Force launched three missions on three consecutive days this week, marking a major success for the multinational unit towards providing critical intelligence to NATO leaders. At present, the multinational NATO AGS Force â€“ comprised of some 350 posts from 23 nations – has four of the total five aircraft available for enduring missions; one was flown to the States in April to receive an upgrade to allow tracking of moving maritime targets. With more than half of the authorized NAGSF positions filled and working out of temporary facilities, it was possible to plan this week of surge operations, timely preparing the aircraft and successfully conducting the three consecutive intelligence and surveillance flights, each lasting eight hours.
“A year ago, the Force flew our first RQ-4D Phoenix unmanned aerial vehicle flight here at Sigonella. We continue refining our processes, fine-tuning our four aircraft and optimizing our NATO communications networks. Flying three missions in three consecutive days is a real achievement for NATO, and I congratulate the entire team who made it happen. It’s a culmination of combined effort of NATO and Host Nation organisations and industry, but ultimately a reflection of the talented multi-national service members here at Sigonella” says NATO AGS Force commander, Brigadier General Houston Cantwell.
On the day of take-off, the launch crew conducts final preparations that begin a couple of hours before launching. The maintainers tow the RQ-4D Phoenix to the take-off position that is entered as the initial point of the flight plan; they power up the engine and conduct final checks of the avionics and the satellite link connections. One of the two pilots conducts a final visual inspection on the ready-for-take-off aircraft and hands the control over to the other pilot in the “airplane cockpit” at the Operation Centre in Sigonella. This is where the flight is controlled, from take-off to touchdown.
Upon mission accomplishment and landing at Sigonella, the pilot hands the RQ-4D Phoenix over to the recovery crew to power the systems down, once the ground support units are connected. Once the aircraft is towed to its parking inside the hangar, the crew conducts a post-flight inspection, tops off the aircraft again and conducts another pre-flight inspection. 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). AGS was scheduled to reach initial operational capability by the end of 2017 with a main operating base at Sigonella Air Base, Italy.