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NATO receives RQ-4D upgraded with maritime ISR capability

Photo: NATO

NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Force (NAGSF) flew home their first RQ-4D remotely piloted aircraft with maritime mode upgrades installed in the US.

Call sign NATO14 arrived Sigonella Air Base, Italy, on September 17, after having the maritime mode software upgrade installed by Northrop Grumman.

“The return of this aircraft marks a major milestone for AGS and the alliance,” said Brigadier General Andrew Clark, NAGSF Commander. “The upgraded sensor dramatically improves NATO’s ISR capability by enabling effective collection in the Maritime domain,” he added.

The RQ-4D touched down at Sigonella after an almost 21-hour flight from Edwards Air Force Base the United States. Now home, the aircraft will enhance the NAGSF’s ability to detect and track vessels moving on the surface of water and identify non-cooperative targets using maritime inverse synthetic aperture radar or MISAR. This technical upgrade adds an enhanced feature to the RQ-4D, which offers the alliance and all its members an increased capability to collect ISR products.

After returning to NAGSF’s main operating base inside the Italian Air Force Base at Sigonella, Italy, the technicians are now integrating the aircraft back into the force’s operational schedule. Very soon, the other four RQ-4Ds will in turn receive the same upgrade directly at the NAGSF main operating base.

NAGSF operates out of temporary facilities at Sigonella and has conducted ISR collection flights for the alliance since 2020.

The team has five Phoenix RQ-4D remotely piloted aircraft at its disposal, having received its final aircraft from Northrop Grumman in November 2020. The first Mobile General Ground Station (MGGS), which forms part of the AGS capability, arrived in Italy in March 2020.

The AGS core features a combination of ground, air, and mission support segments that provide near real-time, persistent wide-area terrestrial and maritime surveillance in all weather conditions during day and night. It also incorporates advanced sensor technologies.