Drones of Its Own: NATO Signs Deal with Northrup Grumman for 'Global Surveillance Capabilities'

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Common Dreams

Drones of Its Own: NATO Signs Deal with Northrup Grumman for 'Global Surveillance Capabilities'

Part of its 'Allied Ground Surveillance' system, the five Global Hawk UAVs will cost $1.7 Billion

by
Common Dreams staff

From left, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, Northrop Grumman vice president Pat McMahon, NATO program manager Otfried Wohlleben and Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush participate in the signing of the $1.7 billion NATO AGS contract May 20 during the NATO Summit in Chicago. (Eddie Anderson / Northrop Grumman)

As part of NATO's planned multi-year and multi-billion dollar investment in an increased global surveillance capability, building what it calls an 'Allied Ground Surveillance (AGS)' system, the 28-nation military alliance penned a deal with defense contractor Northrop Grumman on Sunday for a fleet of unmanned aerial drones along with the requisite command and control base stations needed to operate them. 

The signing of the deal took place between Northrup executives and NATO officials in a quiet room away from the boisterous street protests taking place outside the NATO summit on the streets of Chicago, where citizens voiced their opposition to NATO's continued military presence in Afghanistan and it's increasingly violent role in world affairs in recent years.

NATO has relied heavily on the use of drones owned and operated by the United States in its recent military operations in Afghanistan and in Libya, but this acquisition will allow it to have a vast capability all its own. The system will cost close to $1.7 billion dollars, with billions more needed to maintain and operate the system over the next two decades.

"Today is a big day for the Alliance Ground Surveillance programme," NATO's Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said on Sunday. "The signature of the procurement contract for the AGS system is an important step towards the delivery of this key capability to the Alliance. It will move us from consultations to implementation. From an idea to a programme. From a paper on our desk to a capability operating at an altitude of 60,000 feet."

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Defense News: NATO Signs $1.7B Global Hawk Contract

The Block 40 Global Hawks, which are unarmed reconnaissance UAVs, are part the Allied Ground Surveillance (AGS) system.

NATO first announced the purchase in February but officially closed the deal May 21. A NATO official predicted it would cost NATO another $2 billion to operate the aircraft during the next 20 years.

“These are five Global Hawk drones that provide the kind of surveillance capability that we saw in the Libya operation was so vital to the effective operation of our military,” U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder said at a press conference.

Although European air forces carried out the bulk of bombing missions in Libya last year, they relied heavily on drones provided by the United States to identify and hit targets during the campaign.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that NATO had not discussed where the aircraft could be deployed.

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DefPro.News reports:

"Today is a big day for the Alliance Ground Surveillance programme," the Deputy Secretary General [Alexander Vershbow] said. "The signature of the procurement contract for the AGS system is an important step towards the delivery of this key capability to the Alliance. It will move us from consultations to implementation. From an idea to a programme. From a paper on our desk to a capability operating at an altitude of 60,000 feet.""The decision to move ahead with the Alliance Ground Surveillance programme in today's difficult economic climate sends a powerful message." Alexander Vershbow, NATO Deputy Secretary General

The AGS acquisition contract includes the purchase and initial operation and maintenance of unmanned aircraft equipped with advanced ground surveillance radar sensors. The system will provide a real-time and long-endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to NATO forces in a wide range of missions, including protecting ground forces, crisis management, peace support operations, border and maritime security and humanitarian assistance.

"The decision to move ahead with the Alliance Ground Surveillance programme in today's difficult economic climate sends a powerful message," the Deputy Secretary General said.

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