Update on NATO AGS

Despite funding hiccups and wavering partner commitments, NATO’s alliance ground surveillance program remains on track to come online in Fiscal 2012, according to alliance officials and Northrop Grumman representatives who are leading the transatlantic industry team developing the capability. The program is now pegged to cost around 1 billion euros, down from initial estimates, since the alliance has modified the original configuration by shedding the manned aircraft portion in July 2007, said Richard Froh of the alliance’s defence investment division, during a Jan. 14 teleconference with reporters on the occasion of the NATO Air Force Armaments Group meeting in Melbourne, Fla. AGS now consists of a main control element, deployable and mobile ground stations, and a fleet of Northrop’s RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40 air vehicles equipped with the sophisticated MP-RTIP radar system for tracking surface targets. This equipment will give the alliance an organic theater-wide intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance capability. Martha Evans, a senior USAF acquisition executive and US delegate to the NATO group, said the MP-RTIP radar will be integrated onto an Air Force Global Hawk Block 40 air vehicle for testing in a few months. She acknowledged that there have been challenges in getting the radar’s synthetic-aperture-radar and ground-moving-target-indication modes to work concurrently. As a result, “the concurrent modes have been put on hold so we can get the standard parts of MP-RTIP up and running,” she said. But the goal remains for concurrent operations to be possible in time for the AGS in-service date, she said. Tom Vice, Northrop’s head of airborne surveillance and early warning, said the company is “very confident” that the radar system “will be on time.” Last week, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, US Army Gen. Bantz Craddock, said AGS is at risk since Italy is reconsidering its participation as it mulls spending cuts. After Spain’s withdrawal from AGS in 2008, Italy leaving could place the program in dire straits, he said.