Farnborough Air Show

NATO nearing alliance for ground surveillance

 - July 16, 2010, 2:52 AM

Fifteen years after the concept was first mooted, NATO may finally acquire an alliance ground surveillance system (AGS). Northrop Grumman last month submitted a firm baseline proposal plus options on behalf of a transatlantic consortium that also includes EADS, Selex Galileo and a variety of smaller European companies.

The Europeans will provide the mobile ground stations, while Northrop Grumman provides up to eight Global Hawk Block 40 high-altitude unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) carrying the American company’s new ground surveillance radar–the MP-RTIP (multi-platform radar technology insertion program).

Northrop Grumman declined to reveal the cost of the proposal, but the NATO AGS concept has previously foundered on the grounds of affordability. An ambitious acquisition plan that involved the transatlantic development of a new surveillance radar and its deployment on modified Airbus A320 airliners as well as Global Hawk UAVs was scrapped in 2007. The latest proposal “takes advantage of national investments already made in operationally fielded and proven systems for the good of the entire alliance,” said Pat McMahon, a sector vice president for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.

The MP-RTIP radar has flown on a test bed, and the first Global Hawk Block 40 airframe was rolled out in June 2009. The U.S. Air Force plans to buy 22 of them. The NATO requirement calls for two separate orbits and the request for proposal covered eight UAVs. However, the industry proposal also offers options for fewer airborne platforms, “taking into account our experience with the [U.S. Air Force] Global Hawk,” said Matt Copija, Northrop Grumman’s program director for NATO AGS.

The NATO Alliance Ground Station Management Agency (NAGSMA) has selected Sigonella airbase in Italy as the main operating base. The U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy are also planning to base Global Hawks there.

All 28 NATO nations are supposed to contribute funding for the AGS. But only 15 of them signed the memorandum of understanding that created NAGSMA in September 2009 and entitled their industries to some degree of industrial participation. They were Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia and the U.S.

Contributions in Kind
Some NATO countries that already operate their own similar capability may contribute mostly in kind, following the precedent set by the long-running NATO AWACS program. This will certainly be the case for the UK, which has already fielded the Raytheon ASTOR (airborne stand- off radar) system. “The entire AGS system will empower a network-enabled approach to support interoperability with national systems and to perform the entire range of NATO missions from peacetime to crisis management,” according to Northrop Grumman.

Although Northrop Grumman said that the ground element of AGS “will be wholly produced by European industry,” a briefing to journalists at Berlin’s ILA show last month revealed that the fixed air and ground mission operations support (AMOS and GMOS) ground stations at Sigonella mostly comprise U.S. technology that has already been designed for other Global Hawk programs. For instance, the UAV control elements are from the U.S. Navy BAMS (broad area maritime surveillance) program. “We’re leveraging over five million existing U.S.-designed lines of computer code for the AMOS,” noted Copija.

However, the European industry is providing all of the mobile ground stations that would enable the AGS system to deploy for coverage of trouble spots such as Afghanistan. This mobile ground component accounts for 42.6 percent of the program’s acquisition value. The EADS-led team will enjoy 29.5 percent and Selex Galileo 13.1 percent. In addition, General Dynamics of Canada has 7.6 percent of the action to provide the airborne data management subsystem and server.

“We are building on our previous experience in the development of trailer-based exploitation and dissemination systems. We expect a return on investment of 70 to 80 percent,” said Maren Dammaschke of EADS Defence and Security (D&S) Systems.

EADS D&S is the “first tier subcontractor” to Northrop Grumman.  Its main partners are Retia ICZ (Czech Republic), Terma (Denmark), Aktors (Estonia), Dati (Latvia), Elsis (Lithuania), Konstrukta (Slovakia) and Hermes Soft lab (Slovenia).

No Export Restrictions
Copija noted that the European nations in NAGSMA specified that the mobile ground stations be free of American ITAR export restrictions so that those nations are free to use them in other, non-NATO programs. Regarding potential U.S. restrictions on the MP-RTIP airborne radar technology that is being developed at a cost of $3 billion to American taxpayers, Copija admitted that it is being supplied as a discrete, “black box, but there is no U.S.-only filter on the information that it provides.”

The MP-RTIP will provide ground moving target indicator and synthetic aperture radar imagery, which is one or two generations ahead of previous systems such as JSTARS and ASTOR. Some additional radar modes are being developed for the NATO AGS application.

Separate from the EADS team, Selex Galileo is providing the transportable general ground station. This would likely be deployed when NATO engages in a medium-long term operation out-of-area, such as Afghanistan, where “AGS is urgently required,” according to Northrop Grumman’s Copija. NATO’s Conference of National Armament Directors will vote on the AGS proposal in October.   

Euro Hawk for Germany

The version of the Global Hawk that is being developed for the German Air Force (GAF) flew for the first time on June 29 and will be ferried to Manching test airbase in southern Germany next March.

The Euro Hawk is a Block 20 Global Hawk modified to carry the Integrated Signals Intelligence System (ISIS) that has been developed by EADS Defence and Security Systems.

The ISIS equipment will be installed and test-flown at Manching, before the UAV is transferred to Schleswig-Jagel airbase in northern Germany in December 2011. This location has been selected as the Euro Hawk operating base, but the system will have to pass acceptance tests before Germany commits to another four production aircraft.

The GAF has just retired the last of three Dassault Atlantic SIGINT aircraft that the Euro Hawks are intended to replace.