In the scope of its Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system, NATO will purchase five US-built Global Hawk drones from Northrop Grumman. The decision follows the exposure of major shortcomings in the Alliance’s air surveillance capabilities during the Libya campaign in 2011, where European allies had to use US drones. The costs for purchase and maintenance of the unmanned aerial vehicles will add up to 3 billion Euros ($3.9 bn) over 20 years. While the costs will be shared by 13 NATO member countries, the drones, to be stationed at the NATO base in Sigonella, Italy, will be available to all 28 allies. France and the United Kingdom will contribute to the AGS through their own air surveillance equipment. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the defence ministers’ decision as major example of pooling and sharing projects within the Alliance. According to a NATO official, the AGS will contribute to countering improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan and piracy off Somalia, as well as to humanitarian operations, disaster relief and monitoring arms embargos.
The question of how European allies can lower their reliance on US defence capabilities while dealing with budgetary constraints will be discussed in the Security Jam from 19 to 23 March 2012. Register here for this massive global online brainstorm.