Final RQ-4D Phoenix delivered to NATO

NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) team accepted its fifth and final Northrop Grumman RQ-4D Phoenix high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) in Sigonella, Italy, on November 12.

The aircraft departed Palmdale, California, at 1840hrs (ET/local time) on November 11 and arrived at the AGS’ Main Operating Base in Sigonella the following day, after an almost 20-hour flight. This delivery comes just under a year after the first example was handed over and completes NATO’s RQ-4D fleet under the air segment of the wider multinational AGS programme. The arrival of the final Phoenix marks a key milestone for the AGS team, which is expected to declare initial operational capability (IOC) on the fleet by the end of the year.

Fifth RQ-4D [NATO]
NATO's AGS Force commander, Brig Gen Houston Cantwell (left), and deputy commander, Col Stefano Bianca, pose next to the fifth Northrop Grumman RQ-4D Phoenix following its arrival at Sigonella, Italy, on November 12, 2020. NATO 

Brig Gen Houston Cantwell, commander of NATO’s AGS Force, said: “The arrival of the fifth and final Phoenix aircraft here in Sigonella is a landmark achievement for everyone. We have accomplished a tremendous amount of training and preparation already and we are looking forward to [continuing] our hard work with the new and final aircraft.”

NATO’s AGS programme involves 15 NATO member states, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the US. The AGS programme was established to provide NATO alliance members with a near real-time, persistent, all-weather, wide-area surveillance capability.

Brig Gen Volker Samanns, general manager of the NATO AGS Management Agency (NAGSMA), added: “There is significant work ahead of us, but all of us here at NAGSMA are now focused on moving the programme forward and handing over the AGS system to the NATO AGS Force.”

The RQ-4D is based on the off-the-shelf Northrop Grumman RQ-4B (Block 40) Global Hawk, which is in operational service with the US Air Force. However, the Phoenix has been uniquely adapted to fulfil NATO-specific requirements. In NATO service, the RQ-4D will be employed in an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) role.