NATO receives fourth Phoenix

The fourth RQ-4D Phoenix unmanned aerial system (UAS) was delivered to NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) Force at Sigonella air base, Italy, on July 26.

The high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAS departed Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California, at 1833hrs (local time/PDT) on July 25. After a 22-hour-long transatlantic flight, the aircraft landed at Sigonella at 1620hrs (local time/CET).

RQ-4D Phoenix [NATO]
NATO's fourth Phoenix on the ground at Sigonella air base in Sicily, Italy, on July 26. NATO

Arrival of the fourth aircraft – serial CSXAV-SA-0017 – comes less than two weeks after NATO received its third example. The organisation ordered a total of five examples, with procurement overseen by the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Agency (NAGSMA).

Brig Gen Houston Cantwell, NATO’s AGS Force commander, said: “The arrival of the fourth aircraft enhances our capabilities with greater redundancy and flexibility. The NATO AGS Force continues our advance in becoming NATO’s key provider of regional ‘indications and warning’ information to members of the NATO alliance.”

The transatlantic flight was flown by industry pilots at Sigonella – as conducted with the first three. As with the others, the AGS Force and Italian airworthiness authorities will finalise required documentations prior to the aircraft being officially handed over.

The RQ-4D Phoenix is NATO-specific variant of Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk HALE intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) UAS family. Other versions of the RQ-4 are also in operational service with the USAF and the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF). Three examples are also on order with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF).

The US Navy operates a variant, designated the MQ-4C Triton, which will also be employed by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) from 2023.