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NATO Advances Alliance Ground Surveillance System: NATO defense leaders agreed "to collectively cover the costs for operating" the Alliance Ground Surveillance system, the first intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance capability that alliance members will jointly purchase and operate. NATO's AGS webpage states that their Feb. 2 decision paves the way "for awarding the AGS acquisition contract" that will lead to fielding the system in the 2015-17 timeframe. "It's a good deal. It's a big deal. And, it's a done deal," said an unnamed US defense official in quoting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's reaction. AGS, based in Sigonella, Italy, will comprise five Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft, with a ground control element, that provide persistent high-altitude overhead surveillance. Thirteen alliance members (the United States, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia) will contribute towards the system's purchase, with the United States covering 40 percent of the initial costs. NATO members also agreed to make the British Sentinel system and France's future Heron TP available as national contributions-in-kind, "partly replacing financial contributions from those two allies," states NATO's webpage. (Includes AFPS report by Karen Parrish)