The US Air Force is preparing to launch studies of potential linkages between NATO's Alliance Ground Surveillance programme and its own rolling Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle acquisition as part of risk-mitigation efforts for the troubled transatlantic project.

NATO earlier this year elected to discard plans to base part of the AGS capability on a fleet of modified Airbus A321 airliners carrying Transatlantic Cooperative AGS Radar sensors and instead develop a fleet of up to eight Global Hawks carrying the Northrop/Raytheon Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program sensor.

The USAF announced on 19 November that it is planning new studies to define the NATO AGS "core capability resulting from a UAV-only based approach" and explore "interdependency between ongoing related USAF programme and NATO potential reuse technology candidates".

The process will also include preparation of an "interoperability approach", a concept of operations, and development of acquisition strategies for the USAF that "mitigate any impacts to the USAF RQ-4 Block 40 programme and lower the risk of the NATO AGS programme execution".

The USAF confirms that the A321 "manned aircraft was deleted from the programme in mid-2007 because of affordability issues and NATO is now pursuing an AGS solution based on Global Hawk with the MP-RTIP sensor". It says a two-phase acquisition approach is still planned, starting with a design, development and demonstration effort and subsequent full-scale production.

Source: Flight International