A NATO RQ-4D Phoenix took off towards the Black Sea and returned 24-hours later to home air base in Sigonella, Italy on Tuesday, 16 November 2021. This important step to Full Operating Capability for the NATO Allied Ground Surveillance (AGS) Force has been successfully achieved. The AGS team conducted its first mission of 24-hour duration demonstrating the team’s continuous efforts in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance and therefore enhancing a vital Allied capability. At present, the multinational NATO AGS Force comprises of approximately 375 personnel from 24 nations.
“I am very proud of the teamwork accomplished,” said Brigadier General Houston Cantwell, Commander of the NATO AGS Force. “With this 24-hour mission, we have proven that we are on the right track to Full Operational Capability and are a valuable asset to NATO.”
The challenge of this long mission focused on the airmen and soldiers operating the system; in particular their ability to hand over smoothly between shifts. The sensor operators, who are responsible for controlling the Synthetic Aperture radar, were also changed at the same time as the pilots. In order for the unmanned aircraft to fly its mission safely, it is not only necessary to have well-trained pilots who are replaced after a certain period of time, but also the IT specialists who ensure that the satellite and communication link is guaranteed between the Main Operation Base in Sigonella and the NATO RQ-4D Phoenix.
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.