Alliance airborne ground surveillance system requirement dates from 1993, but progress has been slow

EADS, Galileo Avionica and Northrop Grumman believe a NATO summit in November is the last opportunity for a decision on the acquisition of an alliance airborne ground surveillance (AGS) system to meet the planned 2010 in-service date.

Germany, meanwhile, is to move ahead with a demonstration early next year of the Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle (UAV), which could be the basis for a standalone national AGS.

EADS executive vice-president Thomas Enders says NATO secretary general Lord Robertson has placed AGS acquisition at the top of the agenda, adding: "He wants real commitment, not just talk, by the [November] Prague NATO summit." The companies say that to meet the 2010 deadline a development contract is needed by the end of next year and, ideally, long-lead development money sooner.

NATO's AGS requirement dates from 1993. Industry and governments have spent $30 million on the project, but there is no agreed acquisition strategy. EADS, Galileo and Northrop Grumman earlier this year presented the Transatlantic Industrial Proposed Solution (TIPS) white paper to NATO, outlining plans for industrial teaming, joint development of an active-array radar and an acquisition strategy starting in 2003.

The radar would draw on both Northrop Grumman's Multi Platform-Radar Technology Insertion Programme (MP-RTIP) upgrade for the US Air Force's E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System and the Stand-off Surveillance and Target Acquisition Radar demonstrator being developed by EADS Dornier, Fokker Space, Galileo, Indra and Thales. Joint development is contingent on government-to-government agreements. "We feel industry has shown the way forward," says Matthew Copija, Northrop Grumman NATO AGS programme manager.

The TIPS proposal is based on six Airbus A320-sized aircraft, but the ultimate solution is envisaged as including UAVs, as well as French and UK national systems. Germany is considering a Euro Hawk derivative of the Global Hawk initially as a replacement for electronic intelligence (ELINT) Dassault Atlantics, and in the longer term as a national adjunct to a NATO AGS. A scaled MP-RTIP radar is earmarked for the USAF's planned Spiral 4 variant of the Global Hawk.

As a private venture, Northrop Grumman is refurbishing the first Global Hawk demonstrator to be equipped with an EADS ELINT package for next year's planned German/US-funded demonstration over the Baltic and North Sea.

Germany is also due to release its operational requirements document next year, and "we expect it to be 95% compliant with the existing Global Hawk," says Gene Ostermann, Northrop Grumman Euro Hawk programme director.

Source: Flight International