NATO declares RQ-4D Phoenix fleet as mission-ready

NATO revealed on February 15 that the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) Force’s fleet of five Northrop Grumman RQ-4D Phoenix high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has achieved initial operational capability (IOC).

The declaration means that the AGS Force is now able to start flying the RQ-4D on operational missions within NATO and international airspace from Sigonella Air Base in Sicily, Italy. It marks a major milestone in the AGS programme, which was established to increase and enhance the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities available to all 30 members of the NATO alliance.

RQ-4D Phoenix [NATO via Twitter]
The five Northrop Grumman RQ-4D Phoenix HALE UAVs that make up NATO's AGS Force on the ground at Sigonella Air Base in Sicily, Italy. NATO via Twitter

Maj Gen Phillip Stewart, Strategic Employment Directorate commander at NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), said: “The declaration of IOC is an important milestone for NATO’s AGS Force and for the alliance as a whole. The RQ-4D Phoenix remotely piloted aircraft is a highly capable system.

“This unique, multinational capability, paired with a team of allied specialists who process, evaluate and distribute intelligence, provides NATO decision makers with timely and relevant information. AGS is a win for our ability to better understand the security environment and our efforts to sustain peace,” he added.

NATO’s AGS programme was funded by 15 alliance members, comprising Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the US. Although it has only been funded by half of the NATO member states, intelligence gathered by the AGS Force will be available for all 30 allied nations.

RQ-4D Phoenix [Northrop Grumman/Alan Radecki]
NATO's AGS Force will use the RQ-4D Phoenix to increase and enhance the ISR capabilities available to the alliance's 30 member states. Northrop Grumman/Alan Radecki

Brig Gen Houston Cantwell, the commander of NATO’s AGS Force, added: “IOC represents a culmination of collective efforts across several international organisations. 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 defence and our commitment to developing cutting-edge technologies and information dominance over our adversaries.”

Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4D Phoenix is based on the company’s off-the-shelf 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 ISR mission requirements and will provide the alliance with near real-time, all-weather, persistent wide-area surveillance capabilities.