Nato has announced that its Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) RQ-4D remotely piloted aircraft has achieved initial operational capability (IOC), a major milestone for the programme.

The programme seeks to enhance awareness for the alliance and a wide-ranging view of the ground situation. It will use advanced radar sensors to detect and track moving objects and provide radar imagery of target areas and stationary objects.

SHAPE Strategic Employment Directorate Commander major general Phillip Stewart said: “The declaration of Initial Operational Capability is an important milestone for Nato’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Force and for the alliance as a whole. The RQ-4D ‘Phoenix’ remotely piloted aircraft is a highly capable system.

“This unique, multinational capability, paired with a team of allied specialists who process, evaluate, and distribute intelligence, provides Nato decision-makers with timely and relevant information.

“AGS is a win for our ability to better understand the security environment and our efforts to sustain peace.”

The AGS system is being procured by 15 Nato Allies. It consists of five Nato RQ-4D Phoenix RPA and related European-sourced ground command and control stations.

The aircraft is based on the US Air Force Block 40 Global Hawk.

In November, the final Nato AGS aircraft arrived at Sigonella airbase in Italy.

The system will be operated and maintained by Nato on behalf of all the allies.

Nato AGS Force commander brigadier general Houston Cantwell said: “IOC represents a culmination of collective efforts across several international organisations. Since its inception, each group has played a crucial role to take Nato AGS from concept to reality.

“This also demonstrates Nato’s commitment to our collective defence and our commitment to developing cutting-edge technologies and information dominance over our adversaries.”