SIGONELLA, Italy - The NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) Force has again demonstrated a sustained capability to conduct Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) flights for the Alliance during long-distance missions along the NATO's eastern flank.
With this intense Surge Week, the NATO AGS Force has shown that we are on track advancing our capabilities collecting critical intelligence for our NATO leaders
"With this intense Surge Week, the NATO AGS Force has shown that we are on track advancing our capabilities collecting critical intelligence for our NATO leaders," said Brigadier General Houston Cantwell, Commander of the NATO AGS FORCE. "During the week our aircraft maintenance and communications technicians worked overtime to ensure aircraft were fully mission capable allowing us to fly more total hours than during a comparable two-month period in 2021. This allowed our intelligence analysts a tremendous opportunity to provide detailed analysis up to higher headquarters," General Cantwell added.
From May 11 to May 18, a NATO RQ-4D aircraft was launched every other day to conduct flights along the eastern flank. Ground crews ensured all systems were fully functional. The High-Altitude Long-Endurance aircraft took off from Sigonella Air Base and operated at a flight level above 50,000 feet – well above civilian air traffic – over NATO Allies' territories and international waters.
A NATO RQ-4D unpiloted aircraft during the initial phase of a flight. During sustained operations in the surge week the AGS Force team demonstrated their capabilities. Archive photo by NATO AGS Force.
The AGS Force pilots control the aircraft along a pre-programmed route of waypoints, determine when to activate the sensors to collect data and check all systems for functionality. Archive photo by Christian Timmig.
The NATO AGS Force RQ-4D aircraft collect pictures of what is happening on the earth's surface; fused by the Force with other intel products the inform Allies and NATO decision-makers. Archive photo by NATO AGS Force.
NATO pilots in the Mission Operations Support Centre at Sigonella Air Base controlled the aircraft along a pre-programmed route of waypoints, determined when to activate the sensors to collect data and checked all systems for functionality.
On May 15, an RQ-4D flew a particularly long mission, overflying both the Black Sea first and the Baltic Sea to follow. This mission involved combined planning e.g. of airspace by NATO's two Combined Air Operations Centres at Torrejón and Uedem.
"We have shown that we are capable of preparing, conducting and sustaining complex surveillance missions," said Deputy Force Commander Colonel Stefano Bianca, Italian Air Force. "The RQ-4D Phoenix is a NATO-owned and –operated system. It provides our decision-makers with critical and timely information, based on a comprehensive picture of what is happening on the earth's surface," he added.
The system's sensors use Ground Moving Target Indicator (GMTI) and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) to image facilities and monitor moving vehicles across the area of operation. The data collected during the flights is relayed to the AGS Force Processing, Exploitation and Dissemination (PED) centre at Sigonella, where experts then process and fuse it with other products to create comprehensive and thorough intelligence products. These are forwarded to higher NATO headquarters and available to all Allies.
"Most certainly, AGS supports NATO's strategic decision-makers by providing valuable information on the Ukrainian situation and by bolstering the Alliance's defensive posture along the eastern flank," concluded General Cantwell.