Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS)

  • Last updated: 10 Jun. 2015 11:24

NATO is acquiring the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system that will give commanders a comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground. NATO’s operation to protect civilians in Libya showed how important such a capability is. A group of Allies is acquiring five Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) and the associated command and control base stations that make up the AGS system. NATO will then operate and maintain them on behalf of all 28 Allies.



  • The AGS system consists of air, ground, mission operations and support elements, performing all-weather, persistent wide-area terrestrial and maritime surveillance in near real-time.
  • The AGS will be able to contribute to a range of missions such as protection of ground troops and civilian populations, border control and maritime safety, the fight against terrorism, crisis management and humanitarian assistance in natural disasters.
  • The AGS system also includes European-sourced ground assets that will provide in-theatre support to commanders of deployed forces.
  • The AGS system is being acquired by 15 Allies and will be made available to the Alliance in the 2017-2018 timeframe.

More background information

  • Overview

    The AGS system is being acquired by 15 Allies (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States), and will be made available to the Alliance in the 2017-2018 timeframe. All Allies will contribute to the development of the AGS capability through financial contributions covering the establishment of the AGS main operating base, as well as to communications and life-cycle support of the AGS fleet. Some Allies will replace part of their financial contribution through ‘contributions in kind’ (national surveillance systems that will be made available to NATO).

    The NATO-owned and -operated AGS core capability will enable the Alliance to perform persistent surveillance over wide areas from high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) aircraft, operating at considerable stand-off distances and in any weather or light condition. Using advanced radar sensors, these systems will continuously detect and track moving objects throughout observed areas and will provide radar imagery of areas of interest and stationary objects.

    The main operating base for AGS will be located at Sigonella Air Base in Italy, which will serve a dual purpose as a NATO Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (JISR) deployment base and data exploitation and training centre.

    Just as NATO Airborne Early Warning & Control (NAEW&C) aircraft – also known as AWACS – monitor Alliance airspace, AGS will be able to observe what is happening on the earth’s surface, providing situational awareness before, during and, if needed, after NATO operations.

    AGS responds to one of the major capability commitments of the Lisbon Summit.

  • Components


    The AGS Core will be an integrated system consisting of an air segment, a ground segment and a support segment.

    The air segment consists of five RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 40 aircraft. The aircraft will be equipped with a state-of-the-art, multi-platform radar technology insertion programme  (MP-RTIP) ground surveillance radar sensor, as well as an extensive suite of line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight, long-range, wideband data links. The air segment will also contain the remotely piloted aircraft  (RPA) flight control stations.

    The ground segment will provide an interface between the AGS Core system and a wide range of command, control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C2ISR) systems to interconnect with and provide data to multiple deployed and non-deployed operational users, including reach-back facilities remote from the surveillance area.

    The ground segment component will consist of a number of ground stations in various configurations, such as mobile and transportable, which will provide data-link connectivity, data-processing and exploitation capabilities and interfaces for interoperability with C2ISR systems.

    The AGS Core support segment will include dedicated mission support facilities at the AGS main operating base (MOB) in Sigonella, Italy.

    Contributions in kind provided by France and the United Kingdom will complement the AGS with additional surveillance systems.

    The composition of the AGS Core system and these contributions in kind will provide NATO with considerable flexibility in employing its ground surveillance capabilities.

    This will be supplemented by additional interoperable national airborne surveillance systems from NATO member countries, tailored to the needs of a specific operation or mission conducted by the Alliance.

  • Mechanisms

    The NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Organisation (NAGSMO) is responsible for the acquisition of the AGS core capability on behalf of the 15 participating countries. The AGS Implementation Office (AGS IO) is located at the headquarters of Allied Command Operations (SHAPE) is responsible for ensuring the successful operational integration and employment of the NATO AGS core capability.

    The NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Agency (NAGSMA), representing the 15 AGS acquisition nations, awarded the prime contract for the system to Northrop Grumman in May 2012 during the Chicago Summit. Northrop Grumman has begun the production of the first AGS aircraft. The company's primary industrial team includes Airbus Defence and Space (Germany), Selex ES (Italy) and Kongsberg (Norway), as well as leading defence companies from all participating countries. The industries of all 15 participating countries are contributing to the delivery of the AGS system.

    The engagement of NATO common funds for infrastructure, communications, operation and support will follow normal funding authorisation procedures applicable within the Alliance.

    By the time AGS becomes fully operational in 2018, France and the United Kingdom will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), outlining the modalities for making their contributions in kind available to the Alliance.

  • Supporting NATO’s core tasks

    The Lisbon Summit set out the vision of Allied Heads of State and Government for the evolution of NATO and the security of its member countries. This vision is based on three core tasks, which are detailed in the new Strategic Concept:

    • collective defence
    • crisis management
    • cooperative security

    AGS was recognised at Lisbon as a critical capability for the Alliance and is planned to be a major contributor to NATO’s Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (JISR) ambition.

    AGS will contribute to these three core tasks through using its MP-RTIP radar sensor to collect information that will provide political and military decision makers with a comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground.

  • Facts and figures

    General characteristics of the RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 40 Remotely Piloted Aircraft:

    • Primary function: High-altitude, long-endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance
    • Power Plant: Rolls Royce-North American AE 3007H turbofan
    • Thrust: 7,600 lbs 
    • Wingspan: 130.9 ft / 39.8 m
    • Length: 47.6 ft / 14.5 m
    • Height: 15.3 ft / 4.7 m
    • Weight: 14,950 lbs / 6,781 kg
    • Maximum takeoff weight: 32,250 lbs / 14,628 kg
    • Fuel Capacity: 17,300 lbs / 7,847 kg
    • Payload: 3,000 lbs / 1,360 kg
    • Speed: 310 knots / 357 mph / 575 kph
    • Range: 8,700 nautical miles / 10,112 miles / 16,113 km
    • Ceiling: 60,000 ft / 18,288 m
  • Evolution

    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.