Northrop Grumman unveils NATO's first Global Hawk UAV

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Nicholas de Larrinaga, Palmdale, California - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
04 June 2015

NATO's first Northrop Grumman RQ-4B Block 40 Global Hawk UAV for the AGS programme. Source: Northrop Grumman

Key Points
  • The first of five Global Hawk UAVs being bought by NATO was rolled out on 4 June
  • The ISR UAVs should begin operating out of Sicily on behalf of the alliance in 2017
Northrop Grumman rolled out NATO's first RQ-4B Block 40 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for the Allied Ground Surveillance (AGS) programme on 4 June.

The roll-out marks a major milestone for NATO's efforts to bring a high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAV into service to provide persistent ISR capabilities to the alliance for both military and peacetime missions.

The UAV is the first of five on order collectively by 15 of the 28 NATO allies under a USD1.7 billion contract signed in May 2012. Although only 15 nations are involved in the purchase of the aircraft, all members of NATO will participate in operating and supporting AGS in service.

A formal roll-out ceremony took place at the company's Palmdale, California, facility on 4 June. When they enter service the UAVs will be based out of Sigonella Air Base in Sicily, Italy. In total 600 multinational personnel are planned to be based at Sigonella to operate the AGS capability, with construction of the facility to host the aircraft and personnel beginning in early 2014.

The maiden flight of the first AGS is scheduled to take place in Autumn/September, before the transfer of the first aircraft to Sigonella in 2016. Production of the fifth and final AGS is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2017. Initial operating capability at Sigonella is planned to be declared in the 2Q17, with full operating capability following in 1Q18.

The countries funding the AGS programme are: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the United States. The original contract was signed by 13 nations, with Poland and Denmark joining in October and December 2012 respectively. Although purchased by 15 nations, the AGS programme will provide ISR to all 28 members of the alliance. The programme is overseen by the NATO AGS Management Agency, with Northrop Grumman acting as prime contractor.

The AGS is a modification of the US Air Force Block 40 Global Hawk and features components provided by all of the 15 participating nations. Significant changes to the USAF Block 40s include the installation of a Link 16 wideband datalink from Selex ES, and an uprated Rolls-Royce North American AE 3007H turbofan. Additionally in a departure from the way the US military operates its Global Hawks, the NATO AGS will feature two different types of deployable control centres: known as the Mobile General Ground System (MGGS) and the Tactical General Ground System (TGGS). The MGGS and TGGS are entirely the produce of the European contractors involved in the programme. The software controlling the UAV also differs from the US examples, with the test readiness review of the AGS' software beginning immediately prior to the rollout of the first AGS.

The principal sensor on the AGS is the same as the USAF's Block 40 Global Hawks - the Northrop Grumman Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP), now known in USAF service as the AN/ZPY-2. This X-band radar provides at least six different operating modes: ground moving target indicator (GMTI), synthetic aperture radar, air track, concurrent moving target indication, cued search, and ground high resolution radar. Although the MP-RTIP is an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, on the Global Hawk it's also uses mechanical steering to sweep between facing the port and starboard sides of the UAV.

With the aircraft to be based in Sicily, Italy's Directorate of Air Armaments and Airworthiness is responsible for military type certification of the AGS.


The first unmanned aerial vehicle for NATO's AGS programme was rolled out at Northrop Grumman's Palmdale facility on 4 June. The AGS is based on the RQ-4B Block 40 Global Hawk UAV. (IHS/Nick de Larrinaga)
Northrop Grumman unveils NATO's first Global Hawk UAV - IHS Jane's 360
 
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