Alliance Ground Surveillance to protect NATO forces

NATO's joint intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to be made available soon

  • Last updated: 30 Jul. 2012 10:01

It weighs 6.7 tonnes, is nearly 5 metres long and has an endurance of more than 30 hours. It purrs like a Rolls Royce. It can see in any weather or light condition. Its name: Global Hawk Block 40 or RQ-4. This unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and its four little brothers are being procured by 13 NATO nations. The aim: to provide the Alliance with a ground, maritime and air surveillance capability.

Somewhere in Afghanistan. In a coordinated attack by insurgents, bombs are detonated in different areas where international aid agencies are clustered. In the attack, a NATO convoy and Afghan government offices are also targeted; there are casualties. NATO Air Ground Surveillance System (AGS) is called to duty.

A part of AGS, the UAV is equipped with one of the most technologically advanced ground surveillance radar. This radar is used to gather near-real-time data on moving targets on the ground.

NATO AGS assesses the situation in advance of the ground support and medical teams. Data stored from previous AGS missions and other national interoperable systems, is accessed from the AGS Main Operating Base in Sigonella, Italy. Stored data is used to find out if any suspicious movement had previously occurred along the attacked areas and to supply a complete picture for situational awareness.

Data history shows suspect movement. The radar provides imagery of the area. AGS locates suspicious vehicles and relays information to interoperable forces. Information is then used to set up a perimeter and allows medical and support teams to arrive at the attacked locations, secure the area and evacuate the injured.

“This scenario is a fictitious one. But once fielded, we can expect AGS to handle these kind of situations”, said Bogdan Horvat, Executive Officer at NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Agency (NAGSMA).

A wealth of talent ensuring the Allies' security

The Alliance Ground Surveillance system will be able to perform the full range of NATO’s 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 UAV, one component of AGS, has a 40 metre wingspan, is nearly 14.5 metres long and can fly for more than 30 hours. It can see movement and take pictures in any weather or light condition. That is because the UAV, with its graphite wings, can fly at high altitudes – up to 19,000 m – much higher than commercial airliners.

With five UAVs plus land based fixed, transportable and mobile base stations, the AGS will enable the Alliance to develop its own ground defence capability by providing near-real-time surveillance information.

“The AGS consists of air, ground, mission operations and support elements, performing all-weather, persistent wide-area terrestrial and maritime surveillance”, said Mr. Horvat.

All-seeing and interoperable

The ability of the AGS system to deter and defend NATO against any security threat to its Member states is unquestionable. At the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers on 2–3 February 2012, the Secretary General of the Alliance, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, explained that the AGS capability “will give our commanders the ability to see what is happening on the ground at long range and over periods of time – around the clock, and in any weather”.

It can continuously detect and track moving and fixed objects, giving forces in the theatre and decision-makers a near-real-time, comprehensive view of the situation on the ground. “The radar's large coverage area together with a communications network connecting the ground elements will give many users simultaneous access to Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capability”, explained Mr. Horvat.

France and the United Kingdom will be providing additional surveillance systems that will complement the AGS. Interoperable national airborne and ground systems could be added and adapted to the requirements of a specific operation or mission led by the Alliance.

A multinational procurement contract between 13 Allies

The AGS capability is positioned to become one of the major capability components of the NATO Response Force (NRF) and dovetails with the NATO Transformation Strategy.

On 2 February 2012, the North Atlantic Council decided that there would be common funding for the running costs of a NATO-owned AGS system, with the procurement contract expected to be awarded in 2012.

The system is being procured by 13 Allies (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States), and will be made available to the Alliance between 2015 and 2017.

On 20 May 2012 in the margins of the NATO Summit in Chicago, a procurement contract for the AGS system was signed. "Today is a big day for the Alliance Ground Surveillance programme”, said Alexander Vershbow NATO’s Deputy Secretary General. "The signature of the procurement contract for the AGS system is an important step towards the delivery of this key capability to the Alliance.