In a flight lasting almost 22 hours, the fourth GLOBAL HAWK RQ-4D was transferred from Edwards Air Force Base (California) to Sigonella (Sicily), where it arrived on 26th July 2020. After the transfer flight, the aircraft was taken over by the NATO AGS Management Agency (NAGSMA) and once Italian authorities have approved the aircraft, the GLOBAL HAWK will be handed over to the troops. NATO is setting up the Alliance Ground Surveillance system (AGS) at Sigonella, the air segment of which will be complete later this year when the fifth GLOBAL HAWK arrives.
In addition to the air segment, the AGS includes the ground segment, which is manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space, consisting of mobile and deployable ground stations from which the aircraft are controlled and where the reconnaissance data arrives. In the ground stations, which are mobilised by HX2 trucks from Rheinmetall, the data can be processed and evaluated, something aided by the fact the stations are connected to each other and to NATO command centres (including Allied Command Operations and Allied Air Command) via high-bandwidth data links. The support segment is stationed at Sigonella, from where the missions are supported with services. The handover of the first (of six) Mobile General Ground Station (MGGS) took place in March 2020, thus creating the conditions for initial capability. Full operational readiness of the system is planned for 2025.
The GLOBAL HAWK belongs to the High Altitude (over 18 km), Long Endurance UAV class for long endurance of operation. The aircraft weighs 14.6 tons (maximum take-off weight) and reaches a maximum speed of 575 km/h with a Rolls Royce turbofan engine while a payload of 1.4 tons is available. The main payload elements are the ground surveillance radar sensor (Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Programme, MP-RTIP) as well as an extensive range of long-range and broadband data links.