NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization

Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS)

NATO plans to acquire an Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system that will increase NATO commanders’ ground/surface situational awareness and provide key pieces of the comprehensive land and/or maritime picture. NATO’s recent operations have showed the need for and importance of such a capability. A group of Allied nations intend to acquire five unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and the associated mobile and deployable operational ground stations. NATO will then operate and maintain them on behalf of all 28 Allies.

This key transatlantic procurement programme is being executed following the signature of the AGS acquisition contract at the Chicago Summit in May 2012.

The NATO-owned and operated AGS core capability will enable the Alliance to perform persistent surveillance over wide areas from high-altitude, long-endurance, unmanned aerial platforms operating at considerable stand-off distances and in varied weather and  light conditions. 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. In addition, the deployable and fixed ground stations will provide the capability of Moving Target Indicator (MTI) tracking and Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) exploitation services for any AGS and Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (JISR) interoperable asset.

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

Just as NATO’s 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.

The AGS system is expected to be acquired by 15 Allies (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States), and then will be made available to the Alliance in the 2016-2018 timeframe.

  • 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 Global Hawk Block 40 high-altitude, long-endurance UAVs. The UAVs will be equipped with a state-of-the-art, Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (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 UAV flight control stations (AVMC2), which will be located at the AGS main operating base at Sigonella Air Base, Italy.

    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/maritime stations in various configurations, such as mobile and transportable, which will provide data-link connectivity, surveillance, data-processing and exploitation capabilities via interfaces (interoperability) with NATO and national C2ISR systems.

    The AGS Core support segment will include dedicated mission support facilities at the AGS main operating base 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 airborne surveillance systems from NATO nations, 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 nations. The AGS Implementation Office (AGS IO) at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (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), an executive body of NAGSMO, is responsible for procuring the NATO AGS Core system. This Core system will be supplemented by interoperable national assets, as part of a system of systems. The AGS contract is currently in full-speed execution, with many of AGS’ assets in production. The industries of all 15 participating nations 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.

  • 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 nations. This vision is based on three core tasks, which are detailed in the new Strategic Concept:

    • cooperative security
    • crisis management
    • collective defence

    AGS was recognised at Lisbon as a critical capability for the Alliance and is planned to be a major contributor to NATO’s JISR ambition.

    AGS will contribute to these three core tasks through using its Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), MTI and communications capabilities to collect ground and surface information and share the information with political and military decision-makers. 

  • 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 nations 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 nations, 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 NATO nations 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 nations 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 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 Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (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 nations 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 nations 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 new 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.

  • Facts and Figures

    General characteristics of the Global Hawk Block 40 UAV:

    • 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