NATO has kicked-off its Chicago Summit by signing a €1.3 billion ($1.7 billion) production order for an Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) fleet of unmanned Northrop Grumman Global Hawks.

Inked with prime contractor Northrop on 20 May, the deal will lead to the delivery of five Global Hawks in the Block 40 configuration. Carrying Northrop/Raytheon Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program radar payloads, these will provide the coalition with a new joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability.

Global Hawk AGS - Northrop Grumman 

© Northrop Grumman

The aircraft and their related operating and command and control infrastructure will have their home base at NAS Sigonella in Sicily, alongside other Global Hawks operated by the US Air Force and US Navy.

The NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Agency signed the long-planned deal after protracted negotiations involving the organisation's 28 member states. The programme had initially been expected to deliver a larger fleet of Global Hawks as well as manned surveillance aircraft, but was progressively scaled back because of funding pressures.

Thirteen nations are expected to participate in funding the system's acquisition, introduction and initial maintenance activities, says NATO, listing these as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the USA. "All 28 alliance nations are to participate in the long-term support of the programme," it adds.

France and the UK will also make additional surveillance systems available to complement the fleet, NATO says.

Northrop will work with a variety of European companies to deliver the AGS capability. These include EADS defence arm Cassidian, Kongsberg and Selex Galileo, plus numerous subcontractors.

"The ground element, which provides real-time data, intelligence and target identification to commanders within and beyond line of sight, will be wholly produced by European industry, offering direct work in the programme for the participating nations," says Northrop.

Source: Flight International