Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS)

  • Last updated: 08 Jun. 2018 12:49

NATO is acquiring the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system that will give commanders a comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground. NATO’s past and current operations to protect civilians showed how important such a capability is. A group of Allies is acquiring five Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) and the associated ground command and control stations that make up the AGS system. NATO will then operate and maintain them on behalf of all 29 Allies.



  • The AGS system consists of air, ground and support segments, 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 2019.

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 2019. 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 interoperable 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, located at Sigonella Air Base in Italy, serves 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 or “NATO’s eyes in the sky” – 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 2010 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 and remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) flight control element. 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 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 consists 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.

    Interoperable contributions in kind, such as national surveillance systems and data / communications, will also be made available to NATO and will complement AGS with additional surveillance capabilities.

    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) and its executive body - NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Agency (NAGSMA) - are responsible for the acquisition of the AGS Core capability on behalf of the 15 acquiring countries. The NATO AGS Force (AGSF), activated in September 2015, with its AGS Staff Element Implementation Office (AGS-SEIO) located at the headquarters of Allied Command Operations (SHAPE) and its Advanced Echelon (ADVON) located at Sigonella are responsible for ensuring the successful operational integration and employment of the NATO AGS Core capability.

    NAGSMA, representing the 15 AGS acquisition nations, awarded the prime contract for the system to Northrop Grumman in May 2012 during the Chicago Summit. The company's primary industrial team includes Airbus Defence and Space (Germany), Leonardo (Italy) and Kongsberg (Norway), as well as leading defence companies from all acquiring countries, which 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, France and the United Kingdom will sign Memoranda 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 2010 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 2010 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 take-off 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 North Atlantic Council (Reinforced) 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 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.

    In the margins of the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, NATO nations took an important step towards the delivery of a NATO-owned and -operated ground surveillance and reconnaissance capability. A procurement contract for the AGS system was signed on 20 May 2012, paving the way for the delivery of a vital capability that will be made available to all NATO member nations. The AGS acquisition contract includes the purchase and initial operation and maintenance of unmanned aircraft equipped with advanced ground surveillance radar sensors.

    In September 2015, NATO AGS achieved important milestones such as the first live ground testing of NATO’s first Global Hawk and the activation of NATO AGS Force, meaning Allies formally agreed the configuration (number of staff, their rank structure, etc.) of the unit responsible for operating the AGS Global Hawk aircraft from Sigonella Air Base.

    Between September and December 2015, other important milestones were achieved:

      • the AGS Operations Centre in Sigonella was handed over from Host Nation Italy to NATO;
      • Mobile General Ground Station (MGGS) and Transportable General Ground Station (TGGS) roll-outs took place;
      • the first test flight of NATO’s first Global Hawk occurred in Palmdale, California; and
      • AGS successfully participated in exercise Trident Juncture 2015 from the NATO AGS Capability Testbed (NACT) in the Netherlands.

    Throughout 2016 and 2017, several test flights took place in order to further develop AGS capabilities. These included the first flight remotely controlled from the AGS Operations Centre in Sigonella at the end of 2017.

    An intensive process of re-baselining the core acquisition contract took place and was finalised and signed in May 2018. This process helps ensure that AGS will deliver an operationally suitable capability that can be certified for operations within global airspace.

    The first NATO Global Hawk is expected to fly from the United States to its new home in Sigonella in 2019.