The first Nato Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) aircraft has made a transatlantic flight from the US to the AGS Main Operating Base in Sigonella, Italy.

The flight from Palmdale, California, to the Sigonella Air Base lasted around 22 hours.

The AGS system includes RQ-4D remotely piloted aircraft, ground, mission operations and support elements.

It will provide persistent wide-area terrestrial and maritime surveillance capability to a group of 15 Nato allies.

The system is designed to provide commanders with in-theatre situational awareness.

The RQ-4D unmanned aircraft is a derivative of the US Air Force Block 40 Global Hawk wide-area surveillance aircraft built by Northrop Grumman.

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Northrop Grumman autonomous systems vice-president and general manager Brian Chappel said: “Northrop Grumman is proud to support Nato in its mission to protect and defend global security while maintaining a position of collective deterrence for the alliance. Nato missions will be enhanced by the strategic surveillance capability Nato AGS provides.”

The AGS aircraft will conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to protect ground troops, civilians and international borders during conflict and peacetime.

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said: “I welcome the arrival of the first Alliance Ground Surveillance aircraft in Sigonella. This demonstrates that Nato allies are committed to modernising the alliance and investing to deliver key cutting-edge capabilities to the benefit of our shared security.”

Other countries acquiring the ground surveillance capability include Germany, Italy, Denmark, Luxembourg, Latvia, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Slovenia and the US.

To be jointly owned by the 15 countries, the AGS system will be operated and maintained by Nato.

A total of five RQ-4D aircraft are being acquired for the AGS requirement. All the aircraft are currently in various stages of developmental test flights.

The AGS system is expected to reach initial operational capability in the first half of next year.