NATO signed a $1.7 billion contract with Northrop Grumman for five Global Hawk unmanned aircraft. (Northrop Grumman illustration)
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The NATO defense declaration approved in Chicago shows a commitment by the alliance to back its forthcoming radar-equipped Global Hawk unmanned planes with well-trained analysts and well-tested information-sharing processes, said ISR technologist Joe Ross of the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency.
NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Agency signed a $1.7 billion contract with Northrop Grumman May 20 for five radar-equipped Global Hawks. The agency was formed in 2009 by a group of NATO members who pledged to fund the purchase. The Block 40 Global Hawk aircraft will detect moving ground vehicles and produce cloud-free synthetic aperture radar images of the terrain.
The signing took place in conjunction with the Chicago summit, where ISR technologists had sought reassurance that the member governments would remember the importance of training, data standards and well-honed operations.
During the run-up to the summit, a group of ambassadors lobbied NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to highlight the need to embed the AGS aircraft in a joint ISR initiative that is underway by the agency’s technologists.
When the defense declaration was released May 20, it said: “We are deploying a highly sophisticated Alliance Ground Surveillance system, so that our forces can better, and more safely, carry out the missions we give them; in this regard, a number of Allies have launched an important initiative to improve Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance more broadly.”
The “important initiative” passage amounted to a formal blessing of the NATO Consultation, Command and Control Agency’s effort to broaden its ISR data standardization project beyond the war in Afghanistan. That project — known as MAJIIC, for the Multi-intelligence All-source Joint ISR Interoperability Coalition — has been spearheaded by a group of eight nations.
“The next time we have a Libya, we won’t have to scramble around looking for how we do this. We’ll just say, ‘Could you flip that switch over there?’Ÿ” said Ross, who is technical director for the MAJIIC project.
Because of the complexity of radar data, the standards alone won’t be enough, Ross said. Members need to make sure the AGS processing cells are staffed with enough analysts — possibly as many as 300 in total at four sites.
“That’s quite a lot of staff. I mean, you’d be hard-pressed to find 300 analysts that are available in the world right now. So there’s a lot of training that has to go on,” he said. “Most of them that are capable of doing this kind of job are doing it already for the U.S. and U.K.”
Funds to build the planes will come from 13 of NATO’s 28 members, although the broader alliance will own, operate and maintain the fleet.