Meanwhile, the alliance continues to have differences with the Russians over the fielding of a NATO missile shield in Europe, which Moscow has opposed on the grounds that it could be aimed at Russia's strategic arsenal.
Hollande said NATO should take Russia's concerns into consideration as development of the missile shield moves forward, although NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen argues that the decision to deploy the system “cannot be blocked by Russia.” Speaking to reporters attending the summit May 21, Rasmussen said the alliance continues to explore the potential for cooperation with Moscow.
“I hope at a certain stage Russia will realize it is in our common interest to cooperate on missile defense,” Rasmussen added.
For AGS, an initial operational capability is due to be reached in November 2016. The deal was signed during the meeting of NATO members' heads of government in Chicago.
The contract marks the first export order for the Global Hawk Block 40, which marries the high-altitude, long-endurance Global Hawk with the Multiplatform Radar Technology Insertion Program. The U.S. Air Force is the lead customer for the system.
NATO's five air vehicles should allow the alliance to sustain two permanent operational orbits in up to two theaters. The Sigonella air base in Sicily will serve as the home for NATO's Global Hawks.
The contract to purchase all five Global Hawks is due to be finalized this year. A system requirements review is due in November, followed by the system preliminary design review in December 2013 and critical design review in June 2014, says Northrop Grumman's vice president and AGS program manager, Dan Chang. Full operational capability is due in May 2017.
The AGS program has morphed repeatedly because of budget constraints and as the list of core alliance states involved has shrunk. Once envisioned as a mix of manned and unmanned assets, the program was reduced to only the UAS element which, over time, has been cut back from eight air vehicles to the five now in the plan.
To cut costs, NATO also opted for a largely off-the-shelf purchase of U.S. equipment. European countries will see their industrial share realized through work on a data link and the ground equipment with Selex Galileo working on the tactical ground station, Cassidian on the mobile ground system, and Kongsberg on the hardware and software for the main operating base.
The off-the-shelf purchase of Global Hawk Block 40s also means the main development items are associated with the ground system. Integrating all the elements should not be a high-risk task, Chang says, but it will be something that needs to be watched.