Originating from the Defence Planning Committee in 1992, the AGS programme was defined as a capability acquisition effort in 1995, when the NATO Defence Ministers agreed that “the Alliance should pursue work on a minimum essential NATO-owned and -operated core capability supplemented by interoperable national assets.”
The AGS programme was to provide NATO with a complete and integrated ground surveillance capability that would offer the Alliance and its member countries unrestricted and unfiltered access to ground surveillance data in near real time, and in an interoperable manner. It was to include an air segment comprising airborne radar sensors, and a ground segment comprising fixed, transportable and mobile ground stations for data exploitation and dissemination, all seamlessly interconnected linked through high-performance data links.
From the outset, the AGS capability was expected to be based on one or more types of ground surveillance assets either already existing or in development in NATO member countries, an approach that later also came to include proposed developmental systems based on US or European radars. However, all those approaches failed to obtain sufficient support by the Allies to allow their realisation. In 2001, the Reinforced North Atlantic Council (NAC(R)) decided to revitalise AGS through a developmental programme available to all NATO countries and a corresponding cooperative radar development effort called the Transatlantic Cooperative AGS Radar (TCAR).
In 2004, NATO decided to move ahead with what was labelled as a mixed-fleet approach. The air segment was to include Airbus A321 manned aircraft and Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), both carrying versions of the TCAR radar, while the ground segment was to comprise an extensive set of fixed and deployable ground stations.
Due to declining European defence budgets, NATO decided in 2007 to discontinue the mixed-fleet approach and instead to move forward with a simplified AGS system where the air segment was based on the off-the-shelf Global Hawk Block 40 UAV and its associated MP-RTIP sensor. The ground segment, which would largely be developed and built by European and Canadian industry, remained virtually unchanged as its functional and operational characteristics were largely independent of the actual aircraft and sensor used.
In February 2009, the NATO Allies participating in the AGS programme started the process to sign the Programme Memorandum of Understanding (PMOU). This was a significant step forward on the road towards realising an urgently required, operationally essential capability for NATO. NAGSMA was established in September 2009, after all participating countries had agreed on the PMOU. The PMOU serves as the basis for the procurement of this new NATO capability.
Another important milestone for the AGS programme was the 2010 Lisbon Summit, where the strong operational need for a NATO-owned and -operated AGS capability was reconfirmed with NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept. AGS also featured in the Lisbon Package as one of the Alliance’s most pressing capability needs.
On 3 February 2012, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) decided on a way ahead to collectively cover the costs for operating AGS for the benefit of the Alliance. The decision to engage NATO common funding for infrastructure, satellite communications and operations and support paves the way for awarding the AGS acquisition contract. In addition, an agreement was reached to make the UK Sentinel system and the future French Heron TP system available as national contributions in kind, partly replacing financial contributions from those two Allies.