NATO’s Five Global Hawk Drones Due in Sicily by Year’s End

NATO Global HawkNATO is due to have all five of its Global Hawks delivered by year end to a Sicilian air base where 600 personnel will keep them flying, officials said as they detailed for the first time how the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system will be set up in Italy.

NATO’s first Global Hawk, which is based on the Block 40 version of the Northrop Grumman UAV, made its debut flight in December in the US when its flight controls were tested, and further flights to test its radar are now underway.

But work is also ongoing at Sigonella Air Base in Sicily to get ready for the arrival of all five planned AGS Global Hawks and their ground components this year, with 30 NATO staff already on base, ahead of a performance review before a full handover to NATO in 2017….

As the program has slowly picked up steam, Global Hawks have flown in two NATO exercises, including Unified Vision in 2014, when an aircraft flew across civilian airspace from Sigonella to Norway, and Trident Juncture last year….

The Global Hawks heading for NATO service have 95 percent commonality with US Air Force Global Hawks, which have now reached 150,000 flying hours, 75 percent of which have been in combat zones. The NATO Global Hawks offer the same MP-RTIP ground surveillance radar sensor and are able to fly for more than 30 hours and reach 60,000 feet.

The setup differs on the ground, where Northrop Grumman, plus European firms Finmeccanica and Airbus, all have provided ground stations.

The US firm is supplying a ground station at Sigonella to analyze incoming radar data and transmit it on a secure NATO network.

While 15 NATO nations, including the US, Germany, Italy and Norway have contributed to the program, all 28 members will be able to access the data….

Sigonella is home to Italian aircraft but also a U.S. Naval Air Station and hosts USAF Global Hawks, and is also due to host US Navy Triton-version Global Hawks. Asked if there would be synergies between NATO and USAF Global Hawks, even if they are based on different compounds, Northrop’s Sheehan said, “There are smart things we can do, and there are proven examples already.”

Sigonella is evolving into a key Mediterranean hub for UAVs, with Italian Predator UAVs recently based there while their home base in Italy was undergoing infrastructure improvements.

Image: NATO Global Hawk (photo: NATO)