From left, NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow, Northrop Grumman vice president Pat McMahon, NATO program manager Otfried Wohlleben and Northrop Grumman CEO Wes Bush participate in the signing of the $1.7 billion NATO AGS contract May 20 during the NATO Summit in Chicago. (Eddie Anderson / Northrop Grumman)
CHICAGO — At the end of the first day of the NATO Summit in Chicago, the transatlantic alliance signed a $1.7 billion contract with Northrop Grumman for five Global Hawk UAVs.
The Block 40 Global Hawks, which are unarmed reconnaissance UAVs, are part the Allied Ground Surveillance (AGS) system.
NATO first announced the purchase in February but officially closed the deal May 21. A NATO official predicted it would cost NATO another $2 billion to operate the aircraft during the next 20 years.
“These are five Global Hawk drones that provide the kind of surveillance capability that we saw in the Libya operation was so vital to the effective operation of our military,” U.S. Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder said at a press conference.
Although European air forces carried out the bulk of bombing missions in Libya last year, they relied heavily on drones provided by the United States to identify and hit targets during the campaign.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that NATO had not discussed where the aircraft could be deployed.
Of the 28 NATO member countries, 13 are currently contributing to the acquisition of the aircraft. They are Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States.
Every NATO member is expected to participate in the long-term support of the program.
Northrop Grumman will be the prime contractor for NATO AGS and will build the Global Hawk air vehicle and its various payloads, including the ground surveillance radar. European industry will develop and deliver the system’s ground support stations.
Northrop Grumman officials, including CEO and President Wes Bush, joined NATO leaders and 28 defense ministers from NATO member countries for the signing in Chicago.
The main operating base for the AGS system will be at a NATO base in Sicily, where the U.S. Air Force bases Global Hawks and the U.S. Navy has the broad area maritime surveillance (BAMS) variant of the UAV.