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A U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft.

A U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft. (Bobbi Zapka/Courtesy of the U.S. Air Force)

NAPLES, Italy — Fifteen NATO nations will provide funding for an air surveillance command and control system to be located at the shared Italian-U.S. Navy base in Sicily.

The Air Ground Surveillance system is expected to boost the military presence at Naval Air Station Sigonella by about 800 troops, officials said.

The system consists of eight RQ-4B Global Hawk high-altitude, long-range unmanned aerial vehicles. The ground portion will be developed by Canadian and European industry, according to a NATO news release.

The NATO surveillance project is expected to cost between $1.5 billion to $2.3 billion. Plans are for the project to be in place by 2012.

The system would be beneficial for missions as far from the Mediterranean as Afghanistan, and an asset to coalition navies’ ongoing efforts to quash piracy off the Somali coast and into the Gulf of Aden, said Ludwig Decamps, head of the Armaments Program Support Section of NATO’s Defense Investment Division.

The system would provide NATO forces with key technologies such as radar signals that can be transformed into images to be analyzed by technicians, and an unmanned plane that can track moving targets and at the same time zoom in on those targets to provide analysts with detailed information, Decamps said.

Fifteen NATO countries will pay for the system, while all 28 NATO member nations have been invited to contribute manpower, he said.

The 15 countries are Bulgaria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States.

No decisions have been made on what infrastructure changes will be necessary at Sigonella to accommodate the new system and additional personnel, NATO and U.S. Navy officials said.

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