Once mission parameters are programmed into Global Hawk,
the UAV can autonomously taxi, take off, fly, remain on station
capturing imagery, return and land. Ground-based operators monitor UAV
health and status, and can change navigation and sensor plans during
flight as necessary. The US Air Force intends to acquire a total of 51
Global Hawks between 2006 and 2012. Other countries interested in
Global Hawk are Australia, Japan, South Korea and Germany. However,
due to missile technology transfer limitations, approval of such sales
Global Hawk High Altitude Long Endurance reconnaissance system
consists of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), ground segment and
communications system providing the US Air Force and joint battlefield
commanders with near-real-time, high-resolution, intelligence,
surveillance and reconnaissance imagery. In total, the program will
cover the production of up to 51 platforms to be operated by the 9th
Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, California.
Currently under low rate production are seven aircraft of
the RQ-4A Version, also designated “Block 10”. Two more Global Hawks
are destined to the US Navy for evaluation of unmanned maritime
surveillance missions. Currently undergoing developmental testing, the
unit is expected to become operational by early 2006. At that time,
production will shift to the more advanced RQ-4B (Block 20). The only
Global Hawk flying in support of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq is
the Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator [ACTD]. Although this
specific aircraft was designed as a developmental platform, most of
its missions are actually devoted to combat. Since the beginning of
the flight testing program the ACTD aircraft has accumulated over
6,700 flight hours, over 4,300 of them recorded on 200 combat
missions, 40 flown in straight succession without failure. Although
accounting for only three percent of the total ISR sorties during the
26-day campaign, Global Hawk provided over half of the time critical
targeting data against Iraq’s air defense assets. According to
Northrop Grumman, the ACTD demonstrating 95% mission accomplishment
rate, far above the performance of other manned or unmanned systems.
Two more RQ-4A Block 10 aircraft are scheduled to join the ACTD in the
fall of 2005.
By mid 2005 the RQ-4 Block 20 is already in production. The larger
airframe (wingspan of 130.9 feet, and 47.6 feet long) is configured
with more payload bays and two external pylons. The US Air Force does
not plan to use weapons with the Global Hawk. These payloads could
therefore be used to carry other systems, such as deployable sensors
and expendable mini-drones. In total, the new platform will increase
the payload from its current 2,000 pounds (Block 10) to 3,000 pounds.
More sensors will be installed, including SIGINT and maritime search
Global Hawk Block 20 which rolled out of Northrop Grumman's assembly
line at Palmdale, Ca. on August 25, 2006 will be fitted with a high-speed network
interconnecting all systems on board. A 150% increase in power will be
provided by a redundant electrical generator. Another significant
change will be the operating system. Unlike Block 10 aircraft, the “B”
will use separated flight and sensor management systems. Enhancements
are planned for the ground stations, with the introduction of
automated collection management and automated contingency with TCDL
data links adding direct connectivity with ground forces in theater.
September 2006 Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. received US$22
million to continue support the operation of the two RQ-4A Global
Hawks deployed in forward locations through January 2007. The company
also received US$20 million to stock initial spares for RQ-4A and
RQ-4B aircraft. Since 2001 and has logged more than 6,500 flight hours
during combat missions. Nine RQ-4A aircraft have been produced. The
first RQ-4B (Block 20) aircraft was rolled out in August 2006.
New SIGINT Mission Payload Tested
A SIGINT sensor developed for the Global Hawk platform is the High
Band System Production Configuration Unit (HBS PCU), designed and
produced by Northrop Grumman Corporation. The sensor is designed to
detect and identify radar and other types of electronic devices from
an altitude of 60,000 feet. HBS PCU is a key subsystem of the Airborne
Signals Intelligence Payload (ASIP) sensor which is being developed
and is expected to be operationally fielded in 2008.
The Global Hawk's Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload (ASIP) is
expected to increase the signals-collection capabilities of the U.S.
armed forces. It will be integrated into the U.S. Air Force's
Distributed Common Ground Stations (DCGS), which are used to analyze
electronic intelligence gathered by various airborne systems.
Development of the HBS-PCU is scheduled for completion by the end of
2006. (January 10, 2006)
Global Hawk UAV achieved 10,000 flight hours in June 2006, of which
63% were flown in combat missions.