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Feb 15 2021

Initial operating capability announced for Alliance Ground Surveillance system


The Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system has reached Initial Operational Capability (IOC).


The NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency is responsible for many of the systems and services required to operate AGS. Agency systems will distribute the Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (JISR) information AGS collects across the NATO Command Structure and to Nations. The AGS will also fly on satellite communications managed by the Agency.

Initial operating capability announced for Alliance Ground Surveillance system

NCI Agency General Manager Kevin J Scheid said: "This capability will provide vital information to NATO Nations and Commands during Alliance operations. We are proud to have contributed to reaching this important milestone."

A group of 15 Allies acquired the AGS system, which includes five aircraft based on the Northrop Grumman Block 40 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). NATO is operating and maintaining them on behalf of all NATO Allies. The aircraft have been uniquely adapted to NATO requirements to provide a state-of-the-art ISR capability to NATO.

NATO AGS Force Commander Brigadier General Houston Cantwell said: "IOC represents a culmination of collective efforts across several international organizations. Since its inception each group has played a crucial role to take NATO AGS from concept to reality. This also demonstrates NATO's commitment to our collective defense and our commitment to developing cutting-edge technologies and information dominance over our adversaries."

AGS will be a significant contributor to improved situational awareness and thus, improved decision-making. Just as the NATO Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) monitors 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.

Laryssa Patten, AGS Portfolio Manager for the NCI Agency, said: "Over the past year NCI Agency experts have supported the NATO AGS Force as they conducted training and familiarization flights. Our work focused on ensuring resilient connectivity and consistent and reliable data collection."

The NCI Agency used a multi-disciplinary approach to support everyone involved in the project, including the NATO AGS Force, which is operating the capability, and the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Agency, which is responsible for procuring the AGS core capability.

The Agency provided several services, including satellite communications services and expertise, communications and information systems facilities, cyber security testing and training.

In 2016, the NCI Agency set up the IT infrastructure at the AGS Main Operating Base in Italy. Since then, an Agency unit has been the on-site direct support to the NATO AGS Force. That Agency team has been managing the AGS Force's networks, communications, voice services, IT infrastructure and NATO applications at all levels of classification to help the AGS Force integrate into NATO operations. This connectivity ensures the AGS Force can provide the Supreme Allied Commander Europe with information collected from AGS.

NCI Agency teams have also supported the effort to transition the aircraft to operating on NATO satellite communications systems. The AGS uses three types of satellite communications:

  • Ku band satellite communications provided by LuxGovSat, a public-private joint venture between the Luxembourg government and industry;
  • Inmarsat provided via Airbus Norway; and
  • Ultra High Frequency satellite communications via a Memorandum of Understanding signed with four NATO Nations.

The NATO AGS is flying using satellite communications operated and monitored from the NCI Agency's satellite communications services delivery centre in Mons, Belgium. The NCI Agency also manages the agreements and contracts with the satellite communications providers.

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