Germany, UK Offer Alternatives to Global Hawk for NATO AGS

 - June 14, 2013, 1:35 PM
NATO’s plans to operate a fleet of five Global Hawks for ground surveillance have been called into question by the German decision to cancel the similar Euro Hawk. (Image: Northrop Grumman)

In the wake of the Euro Hawk cancellation in Germany, the future of the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system based on the similar Northrop Grumman Global Hawk UAV is in doubt. Germany intends to offer for AGS whatever alternative platform it decides to employ for the Cassidian integrated signals intelligence system (ISIS) that was the payload on the Euro Hawk. The Royal Air Force Raytheon Sentinel R.1 ground surveillance aircraft is also on offer. Under a $1.7 billion contract signed last year, 13 NATO countries are buying five Global Hawks for the AGS, which also comprises the MP-RTIP advanced radar sensor, eight ground stations and one main operating base. The other NATO countries are supposed to contribute to the operating costs of the system.

In a report to parliament last week, German Defense Minister Thomas De Maziere called for NATO and Europe to achieve clarity on the certification and operation of UAVs. He said that a German military airworthiness authority would be established. Amid opposition calls for his resignation, he justified the continuation of the Euro Hawk into this year, even though the problems of achieving certification were apparent some time ago. Without the development aircraft, the ISIS could not have been flight-tested, De Maziere wrote. ISIS accounts for no less than €360 million of the €662 million that has been committed to the Euro Hawk program. The development Euro Hawk will continue flying until September so that these tests can be completed.

The report revealed U.S. export constraints on moving the Euro Hawk mission planning system to Europe; these constraints will continue until 2017. The report also noted that the U.S. Air Force decision early last year to ground the Block 20 and 30 versions of the Global Hawk is causing concern about higher overheads and the supply of spare parts. The U.S. Congress has not endorsed the grounding decision.

In London, chief of the air staff Sir Stephen Dalton paid tribute to the operation of the Sentinel over Afghanistan, Libya and–most recently–Mali. “It is a highly capable and readily deployable platform,” he said. The aircraft are due to be withdrawn in 2015, a decision revealed in the UK’s 2010 defense review that has been overtaken by events, Dalton suggested. “It could form part of the NATO AGS,” he said.