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Jul 9 2020


SIGONELLA, Italy – During a Change of Command ceremony at the Italian Air Base Sigonella, Sicily, on July 09, 2020, the incoming Commander, Brigadier General Houston R. Cantwell, United States Air Force, assumed the duties as the Commander of the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Force (NAGSF) from the outgoing Commander, Major General Phillip A. Stewart, United States Air Force. 

The Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General Tod Wolters presided over the ceremony. Among the distinguished guests was General Jeff Harrigian, Commander of NATO’s Allied Air Command. In respect to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, NAGSF took precautionary measures for all attendees of the ceremony and participation was limited in accordance with Host Nation Italy restrictions.

In just two short years we have achieved our first flight of this great aerial surveillance vehicle which sits behind me today

“We are inspired by General Stewart’s accomplishments, which are your [NATO AGS] accomplishments,” said General Wolters addressing the NATO AGS Force. “Quite honestly we are absolutely positively shocked that we are where we are today, and it is for the good for all of NATO and certainly for the good of all global security,” he added.

SACEUR, General Tod Wolters addressing the audience during the NATO AGS Force Change of Command against the backdrop of one of the NATO RQ-4D Phoenix aircraft. Photo by Falk Plankenhorn.

Brigadier General Cantwell is the second Commander of NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Force in its permanent structure. During his speech Brig Gen Cantwell told the member of the NATO AGS Force: “We assemble under a common flag. Our very creation demonstrates the ever-changing European security environment - the preeminent importance of information in the 21st century - and the need for NATO to continue to evolve. As professionals, we share a common set of values and principles - we are all members of the PROFESSION OF ARMS”.

During his farewell speech, Major General Stewart reflected on NAGSF’s progress over the past two years: “What we at the NATO AGS Force do for our nations and what we do for NATO is unparalleled,” said General Stewart. “We need to cherish our alliance as over 1 billion people and one-third of the entire world’s industrial and military might reside under the umbrella of protection offered by our alliance. Never forget how precious our alliance is,” he added.

Under Major General Stewart’s leadership, NAGSF achieved several crucial AGS programme milestones. In late 2019, the program saw the arrival of two RQ-4D Phoenix aircraft and the early acceptance of eight associated ground assemblages. NAGSF co-hosted a “Welcome Ceremony” with the NATO AGS Management Organization in January 2020, with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as the presiding official. This spring, NAGSF also conducted four missions to date, flying over the Mediterranean in support of ongoing NATO operations.

“In just two short years we have achieved our first flight of this great aerial surveillance vehicle which sits behind me today,” said General Wolters.

AGS is the first fully NATO-owned and operated system, expanding NATO’s joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance capability. It represents a critical step towards NATO facing 21st century challenges. Fully equipped, AGS consists of five remotely piloted RQ-4D Phoenix aircraft, and ground control stations. It will enable the Alliance to perform persistent terrestrial and maritime surveillance operations, over wide areas in high-altitude, long-endurance missions under any weather or light conditions. The NATO AGS Main Operating Base is located at Sigonella, Italy, which serves as a NATO Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance deployment base and data exploitation centre.

Story by NATO Allied Ground Surveillance Force Public Affairs Office

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