A report at Defense News says that the first NATO surveillance drone, a form of the US Global Hawk known as the RQ-4D Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS), began test flights over the Mediterranean earlier in June. This drone was supposed to be ready years ago, but issue had prevented its delivery and costs were high. Reuters noted in December 2019, “the first drone was delivered last month to the Sigonella air base in Italy.” For $1.5 billion five of the UAVs will be operational by 2022.
Back in December Brig. Gen. Volker Samanns said “It’s been a very, very long road…We are basically creating a small air force.” He is from the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) drone system. These are Global Hawk block 40 drones, Defense News reported last year, noting “NATO members are relying on Italy’s safety certifications for the alliance’s new Alliance Ground Surveillance drone fleet, as questions remain about the aircraft’s ability to fly through Europe’s regulated airspace.” They will be stations at Sigonella, Sicily and have a long endurance of around 30 hours. In January 2020 the BBC noted “they’ll help commanders on the ground identify potential threats to Nato members – with one single drone able to watch over a territory the size of Poland.”
Pushed for years, especially since 2012, NATO said in November 2019 “NATO is acquiring the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system that will give commanders a comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground. A group of 15 Allies is acquiring the AGS system comprised of five NATO RQ-4D remotely piloted aircraft and the associated European-sourced ground command and control stations.”
Defense News notes that the “first of five new NATO surveillance drones began test flights over the Mediterranean Sea this month, nudging the alliance toward a new capability meant to relieve the demand for U.S. equipment.” The test flights from Sigonella are an important step. There are apparently two of the planes there now, after they flew from Palmdale, California.