NATO has formally selected Sigonella air base in Sicily as the main operating base for its future Alliance Ground Surveillance capability, which should be delivered from 2012 using Northrop Grumman RQ-4B Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned air vehicles.

Italian defence minister Ignazio La Russa says no opposition emerged to the Sigonella proposal from NATO members ahead of a 16 January deadline to select the site for the main ground infrastructure and aircraft for the AGS system.

NATO's core AGS system will include a fleet of eight Global Hawks equipped with US-sourced multi-platform radar technology insertion programme sensors, with Sigonella expected to host 800 alliance personnel linked to the project.

The site's location in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea will enable it to manage operations over all of Europe, the Middle East and beyond. Germany, which is separately acquiring RQ-4-based Eurohawk UAVs for electronic intelligence duties, and Turkey had also offered facilities to host the AGS infrastructure.

Italy will pay €150 million ($195 million) as its share of the AGS programme's projected €1.56 billion cost. NATO is awaiting project launch, pending the signature of a multinational memorandum of understanding.

Source: Flight International