Paris Air Show

NATO eyes surveillance plan

 - December 13, 2006, 12:36 PM

The largest multinational industrial consortium yet assembled for a defense program will gather this morning to brief on progress on the e4-billion-plus Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) program for NATO. No fewer than 23 nations are involved in the TIPS consortium, whose mixed-fleet proposal was endorsed by NATO last year.

TIPS stands for Transatlantic Industrial Proposed Solution. The key players are EADS (Germany), Galileo Avionica of Italy, General Dynamics Canada, Indra of Spain, Northrop Grumman of the U.S. and Thales of France. But a network of more than 60 agreements link many other TIPS suppliers, including lead companies in each of the 17 “smaller” NATO nations that have committed to TIPS. They will gain workshare on the AGS to the value of their cost participation.

As currently envisioned, the NATO AGS will comprise five Airbus A321s modified to carry a state-of-the-art, active-array surveillance radar, which will also be fitted to seven Northrop Grumman Global Hawk UAVs with a scaled-down antenna.

To receive, process and disseminate the information gathered by these platforms, there will also be 24 mobile and 14 transportable ground stations, 48 remote workstations and one maritime ground station. The radar will be produced by a separate consortium comprising the key companies listed above, plus Raytheon.

But the numbers of platforms and ground stations may change, as a result of a six-month program implementation study that is now under way. The e23 million study was awarded to TIPS in late April and is addressing interoperability issues, especially with NATO’s existing E-3 AWACS fleet, the C4ISR implications and the role of AGS as a network-enabler within NATO. The study may also confirm that the top-mounted radar antenna configuration, first revealed as an option for the A321 last year, is now the preferred design. The study will also explore possible cost savings already, an option to provide one or more A321s in an interim C4ISR configuration without the radar, has been dropped.

Although spokespersons for TIPS are bullish that the AGS program has solid support within the alliance, it is the largest ever acquisition in NATO’s history. Last year, NATO rejected a potentially lower-cost solution submitted by a Raytheon-led team, which would have used Global Express business jets and Predator UAVs as the airborne platforms.

The next step for AGS should be the inking of a design and development contract, worth some €350 million. To achieve the initial operating capability for AGS in 2010, the contract should be signed early next year. Early this year, the Pentagon cut U.S. funding for AGS by $400 million. A TIPS spokesman interpreted this move as “a hurry-up call to NATO–get moving on this program, or else!” The AGS program has been under discussion in NATO for 15 years.