The RQ-4D Phoenix is based on the RQ-4 Global Hawk, which is in service with the US Air Force. Credit: Northrop Grumman.
The RQ-4D Phoenix is owned and managed by the NATO member nations. Credit: NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Agency (NAGSMA).
The RQ-4D Phoenix aircraft is a part of Nato Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system’s aerial segment. Credit: NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Agency (NAGSMA).

RQ-4D Phoenix is a high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) designed by Northrop Grumman for Nato’s Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) programme, which aims to provide an airborne ground surveillance capability for Nato member states.

The UAS can provide a full spectrum of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations for Nato. The AGS system comprises a total of five RQ-4D Phoenix UASs based at Sigonella Air Base in Italy.

RQ-4D Phoenix development details

Nato Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Agency (NAGSMA) and Northrop Grumman Integrated System Sector International (NGISSII) signed the authorisation to proceed (ATP) for the AGS core contract in March 2012.

Nato nations signed a contract for the procurement of the AGS system at the Nato summit in Chicago, US, in May 2012. The programme involves 15 Nato nations including the Czech Republic, Denmark, Bulgaria, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Estonia, Luxembourg, Norway, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the US.

The fuselage of the first aircraft was completed at Northrop Grumman’s Moss Point facility in Mississippi, US, in July 2014, while the second aircraft’s fuselage was completed in November 2014.

The first live ground test of the RQ-4D Phoenix aircraft was carried out in September 2015.

NAGSMA awarded a framework contract to Airbus to provide initial in-service support services for the project in January 2019. The contractual scope includes the supply of spare parts and the provision of sustainment services for mobile general ground station (MGGS) units.

The fifth and final AGS aircraft landed in Sigonella, Italy, in November 2020. Nato’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Management Organization (NAGSMO) officially transferred the ownership and responsibilities of the AGS programme’s second mission operations support element to AGS Support Partnership Committee (SPC) in January 2021.

The RQ-4D Phoenix achieved initial operating capability in February 2021.

RD-4D Phoenix technical specifications

The RQ-4D is a modified version of the US Air Force’s (USAF) RQ-4 Block 40 Global Hawk. The modifications were executed to meet the specific requirements of the NATO AGS Force.

The UAS has a length of 47.6ft (14.5m), height of 15.3ft (4.7m), wingspan of 130.9ft (39.8m) and gross weight of 14,950lb (6,781kg).

The maximum take-off weight of the aircraft is 32,250lb (14,628kg), while the maximum payload carrying capacity is 3,000lb (1,360kg).

Sensors onboard RD-4D Phoenix UAS

The unmanned aircraft features a ground surveillance radar developed under the USAF’s multi-platform radar technology insertion programme (MP-RTIP), a radar systems improvement effort led by Northrop Grumman.

An extensive suite of long-range, wideband data links is also fitted for line-of-sight (LOS) and beyond-line-of-sight (BLOS) communications between ground and air segments.

RQ-4D Phoenix engine and performance

The powerplant used in the remotely piloted aircraft features Rolls Royce North America’s AE 3007H turbofan engine, which provides a maximum thrust of 7,600lb.

The UAS can attain a maximum speed of 310kt (575km/h) and fly at a maximum altitude of 60,000ft (18,288m).

AGS system details

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.

The system provides comprehensive situation awareness to the commanders of deployed forces. It supports Nato members in a range of missions including protection of ground troops and civilian populations, anti-terrorism operations, border control and maritime safety, and humanitarian assistance operations during natural disasters.

The air segment comprises five RQ-4D Phoenix UAVs and flight control stations (AVMC2). The ground segment provides an interface for interoperability between the AGS core system and command, control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C2ISR) systems.

Equipped with multiple mobile and transportable ground stations built by Airbus, the ground segment enables datalink connectivity, as well as data processing and exploitation capabilities. The industry team led by Northrop Grumman also includes Airbus, Leonardo, and Kongsberg.

The surveillance capabilities provided by the AGS programme will be complemented by interoperable contributions such as national surveillance systems and data/communications support from member countries.

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