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Global Hawk

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Global Hawk - UAV





General characteristics


13.5 meters

44 feet 5 inches


35.4 meters

116 feet 2 inches


4.6 meters

15 feet 2 inches

Empty weight

3,850 kilograms

8,490 pounds

Maximum loaded weight

10,400 kilograms

22,900 pounds

Cruising speed

650 km/h

404 mph / 350 kt

Service ceiling

20,000 meters

65,000 feet


34 hours

Program Origin

The Northrop Grumman Global Hawk has its origins in the 1994 High-Altitude Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator (HAE UAV ACTD) program initiated by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO). This effort was undertaken as a reaction to the perceived excesses of the highly classified and enormously expensive Lockheed/Boeing Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance System (AARS) program initiated in the mid-1980s. A loitering long-range strategic reconnaissance UAV designed to penetrate contested airspace and carry a wide range of sensors, AARS was cancelled in May 1993 due to cost overruns and the loss of its main mission with the end of the Cold War.

Two distinct air vehicles and respective ground segments made up the HAE UAV ACTD program. Global Hawk was built to the Tier II+ requirement, which called for a conventionally configured UAV, while the Lockheed Martin/Boeing DarkStar fulfilled the Tier III- requirement for an unconventional low-observable UAV. DarkStar, primarily a technology demonstrator, quickly ran into trouble when it crashed during its second takeoff. DarkStar did not take to the air again until 26 months later, when test flights revealed unanticipated stability problems. These performance concerns, along with escalating costs, led to Air Force cancellation of the program after just six flights.


In the Phase I design competition for the Tier II+ platform, five contractors were invited to participate. This was reduced to one contractor, Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical (now part of Northrop Grumman), after budget cuts prior to the Phase II downselect. Very early in Phase III, Global Hawk demonstrated notable military utility and subsequently entered the formal acquisition process. The UAV's Common Ground Segment (CGS) was also a success, controlling the air vehicle as well as the transmission and dissemination of imagery.


Few aircraft have shown such utility and deployment capability so early in flight testing. Global Hawk's autonomous high-altitude, long-duration flight characteristics were proven, along with the capability of its Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) sensor to provide high-quality imagery. Though not part of the original requirement, Global Hawk and its sensors were also shown to be dynamically retaskable during its trials with the Air Force's 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron. The Global Hawk effort succeeded where DarkStar failed because it focused on the design and construction of a practical air vehicle that was developmentally mature enough to be transitioned into an operational weapons system.


Program History

The first of 7 development Global Hawks flew on February 28, 1998. The Reconnaissance Systems Program Office, Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio assumed total control of the Global Hawk Program on October 1, 1998. The development program, made up of a series of exercises sponsored by U.S. Joint Forces Command, showed great promise and the pace of testing accelerated in the following year, interrupted only by a few months delay after a Global Hawk was lost due to technical malfunction in March 1999.


In March 2001, Global Hawk entered the Engineering, Manufacturing and Development phase of defense acquisition. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, development Global Hawks were rushed into operational service for Operation Enduring Freedom; later, they served in Operation Iraqi Freedom (see the following sections for more information on these operations). The performance of the UAV exceeded the most optimistic expectations, logging 3,000 flight hours during the development phase, the majority of which were operational sorties.


On August 1, 2003, the first of 48 production vehicles was rolled out at Northrop Grumman's Antelope Valley Manufacturing Center at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. As of 2004, the Air Force plans a production run of approximately 51 Global Hawks. They will be operated by the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, based at Beale AFB in California, alongside the venerable U-2S.


The Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California is currently flight testing Global Hawk, with more than 1,700 hours and more than 120 successful sorties flown.


Eglin Deployment

On April 20, 2000, Global Hawk air vehicle number 4 flew from Edwards to Eglin AFB, Florida, to take part in the "Linked Seas 00" and "Joint Task Force Exercise JTFEX 00-02" exercises. The transit across the USA provided an opportunity to also demonstrate the Global Hawk's capabilities to the US Coast Guard, which received images of shipping activity in the Gulf of Mexico.


In the first exercise, Linked Seas 00, which ran from May 1 to 12, Global Hawk flew northwards from Eglin along the east coast of the USA and transmitted radar images directly to a US Army ground station in Fort Bragg, North Carolina and to the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. It then continued its flight across the Atlantic where shipping movements were monitored to the north of the Azores. Above Portugal, the RQ-4 gathered radar images of an amphibious landing operation near Setubal. The UAV flew back over almost the same route and after some 28 hours airborne it was back at Eglin. During the mission, the Global Hawk flew through three air traffic control zones above the Atlantic. Its progress was monitored from the Joint Warfighting Center in Suffolk, Virginia, while the data was transmitted via RAF Molesworth in the United Kingdom to NATO's SOUTHLANT HQ, validating that the systems worked in complex scenarios.


In the second exercise, Joint Task Force Exercise 00-02, which took place from May 14-26, Global Hawk provided direct support for the joint maritime mission of a Navy Carrier Battle Group and an Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit in a littoral (land-sea) environment. Global Hawk returned to Edwards AFB June 19, concluding the deployment exercise demonstration program. According to US Joint Forces Command, during the 22 individual sorties it flew in the yearlong series of joint deployment exercises, Global Hawk proved its military worth by providing critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to the warfighting community.


Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)

Global Hawk Air Vehicle 3 was deployed to Afghanistan and performed the type's second full reconnaissance mission took on March 11, 2002, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Global Hawk provided Air Force and joint war-fighting commanders more than 17,000 near-real-time, high-resolution intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance images, flying more than 60 combat missions and logging more than 1,200 combat hours.


To keep the prototype functioning in theater, parts for Air Vehicle 3 were cannibalized from Air Vehicle 6. The aircraft-ground station package performed impeccably, giving commanders something they had never enjoyed before in a major war, namely a continuous wide-angle view of the battlefield that was instantly beamed to the Air Force's Combined Air Operations Center in Saudi Arabia. Enemy positions were then sent to field commanders and pilots and rapidly destroyed.


Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF)

Global Hawk flew 15 missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), providing over 4,800 images. Although this represented only 3 percent of all the air-based image collection missions flown during the war, Global Hawk generated approximately 55 percent of all time-critical data on air defense targets. The sole Global Hawk in theater located at least 13 surface-to-air missile batteries, 50 SAM launchers, 300 canisters and 70 missile transporters; it also imaged 300 tanks, 38 percent of Iraq's armored force - a remarkable display of the vehicle's capability. The Joint Forces Air Component Commander credited Global Hawk with accelerating the defeat of the Iraqi Republican Guard, shortening the duration of the war and reducing casualties, exceeding the combatant commander's expectations.


During OIF, the Air Force also developed a full "reachback" capability for the Global Hawk, in which the UAV and its sensors were operated remotely from Beale Air Force Base, California, reducing Global Hawk's logistical footprint in the field by more than 50 percent. Global Hawk crews used Internet-style chat rooms to stay in touch, literally forming "a worldwide virtual crew." These chat rooms provided effective command and control over a weapon system that was spread across the globe.


German Demonstration

In July of 2000, Northrop Grumman and the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) signed an agreement to develop an unmanned wide- area surveillance and reconnaissance system. The project, which brought together the companies' respective expertise in UAV and sensor technology, was initiated to offer a replacement for the ageing fleet of Breguet Atlantique signals intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft of Marinefliegergeschwader 3 (MFG3) Graf Zeppelin based at Nordholz, Germany, due to be replaced by 2008. This cooperation was followed by a bilateral project agreement between the US Air Force and the German Ministry of Defence signed in October 2001.


On July 23, 2002, US Air Force and German Ministry of Defense officials completed preliminary compatibility testing of EADS' electronic intelligence (ELINT) payload with Global Hawk at the Integrated Systems facility in San Diego, California. The first successful demonstration of the ELINT sensor payload aboard Global Hawk took place on November 17 and 22 at Edwards AFB. During the missions, the sensor was able, for the first time, to detect radar transmissions from emitters located at the Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake, California. The transmissions were sent through a line-of-sight communications link to a temporary German ground support station located at the Air Force flight test center at Edwards.


With the successful integration of the EADS' ELINT payload into Global Hawk, Northrop Grumman undertook a series of demonstration flights in Germany for the German Ministry of Defense (MoD) in Fall 2003. On October 15, the first prototype RQ-4 Block 10 performed a 20-hour, 53-minute transatlantic flight from Edwards AFB, California to the naval airbase at Nordholz to demonstrate the technical feasibility of using UAVs to perform HALE wide-area surveillance (WAS) missions. Global Hawk was based at Nordholz from October 15 to November 6, 2003, during which time it performed six demonstration flights over the North Sea for a total of 29 hours flight time. The European ELINT sensor enabled Global Hawk to detect and classify electromagnetic signals from aircraft, ships and land based systems, determining the type of radar emanating from each, while relaying the information via a UHF data link to an EADS ground station. These flights represented the first successful operation of a UAV in controlled European airspace, paving the way for further developments of unmanned flight in Europe.


The test program led to a decision by the German MoD to develop and produce a Global Hawk-derived sensor platform called EuroHawk to satisfy its HALE WAS mission requirements. EuroHawk will be based on the RQ-4 Block 20/30/40 model Global Hawk and carry an EADS-developed sensor package. This promising Global Hawk derivative is discussed further in the Emerging UAV Missions International Overview section below.


Advanced Information Architecture (AIA)

On October 24, 2003, Northrop Grumman successfully conducted the first communication between Global Hawk and a manned airborne battle management platform in the skies above Edwards AFB. The company-funded event demonstrated a new architectural concept called the Advanced Information Architecture (AIA), which allows Global Hawk imagery and other mission-critical data to be rapidly disseminated in theater among battle managers, ground troops and other tactical users. Northrop Grumman used the AIA concept to share imagery among Global Hawk, a test bed E-8C Air Force Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint STARS), and several ground users equipped with tactical man-pack radios and laptop computers.


Northrop Grumman's AIA concept provides a faster, simpler alternative to the expensive, bandwidth-intensive process used in recent conflicts, such as Operation Iraqi Freedom, to download Global Hawk image data to U.S.-based ground stations, analyze it, then push it back into theater on demand. It will allow tactical users on the ground or in the air to select and download mission-critical data directly from a network of high-capacity servers on Global Hawk and other in-theater platforms.


Using narrowband, "line-of-sight" air-to-air or air-to-ground UHF communications links, users could elect to receive just the data needed for a specific mission, thereby minimizing bandwidth requirements. If the queried platform did not have the requested data, its server would poll other servers in the network to obtain and deliver the data to the original requestor. The AIA concept would effectively extend a user's "line of sight" to the most geographically distant platform in the network.


To demonstrate the concept, Northrop Grumman's test team developed and installed on Global Hawk a new 1.4 terabyte (1500 gigabyte) computer server capable of storing all of the imagery and sensor data recorded during a complete Global Hawk mission. Fifteen hundred gigabytes equals the storage capacity of approximately 50 desktop personal computers.


The company also set up a secure, wireless local area network between Global Hawk and Joint STARS using hardware provided by Harris Corporation; and installed client software that allowed tactical users with UHF radios to query and receive information from Global Hawk.


With Global Hawk orbiting in the skies 64,500 feet above Edwards Air Force Base and Joint STARS patrolling 100 miles away, battle managers on board Joint STARS queried and received, from Global Hawk, images and navigational data from the UAV's most recent mission. The imagery was also relayed by a satellite communications link to Northrop Grumman's Crew Area Virtual Environment in Melbourne, Florida, a 40-foot-long, company-funded mockup of a Boeing 767-400R fuselage configured as an airborne battle management center. Following the exchange, ground users at Edwards Air Force Base and a Northrop Grumman facility in El Segundo, California, used their tactical, line-of- sight UHF radios to query and receive recently recorded images directly from Global Hawk's server. A tactical radio integrated with Global Hawk's server enabled the proper "handshake" between Global Hawk and the ground users.

Planned Demonstrations

US Navy - Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD)

The US Navy has ordered two Global Hawks to serve as testbeds for the development, integration and testing of future maritime UAV sensors and payloads, as well as helping to establish a concept of operations for their use. These are scheduled to participate in the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD) beginning in 2005. The GHMD program is intended to develop maritime UAV tactics and operating procedures. Lessons learned from GHMD will be applied to future naval UAV systems. This system will provide the Navy with an enduring test bed to evaluate new technologies; to support fleet experiments and exercises; and to provide a contingency operational capability to support deployed Navy and Marine Corps forces.


The Navy Global Hawks are designed with features specifically tailored to maritime missions, including new radar modes for detecting and identifying ships at sea, as well as passive sensors capable of picking up hostile radars. The ground stations are also modified, adding displays and controls needed to allow operators to analyze sensor information in real time and without external assistance.


The first air vehicle, dubbed N-1, made its premiere flight on October 6, 2004, flying from the company's Palmdale, Calif., production facility to the Birk Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. A joint U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and contractor team began testing the air vehicle in preparation for its delivery to the Navy. That 10 hour ferry flight to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., was successfully completed on March 28, 2006. The second air vehicle made its maiden flight on June 7, 2005. The Navy will operate both vehicles from NAS Patuxent River. Although based at PAX, the system will be moved and deployed to other locations to support exercises or deployed contingency operations.


Domestic Overview

US Coast Guard (USCG) Integrated Deepwater System (IDS) Program

To continue to meet America's 21st century maritime threats and challenges, the Coast Guard initiated the IDS Program, the largest and most innovative acquisition in the Coast Guard's history. The IDS is an integrated approach to upgrading existing assets while transitioning to newer, more capable platforms with improved C4ISR and innovative logistics support. This new "system of systems" will significantly contribute to the Coast Guard's maritime domain awareness, as well as the improved ability to intercept, engage, and deter those activities that pose a direct challenge to U.S. sovereignty and security. In June 2002, the IDS contract was awarded to Integrated Coast Guard Systems (ICGS), a joint venture between Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. When complete, the interoperable IDS system will include three classes of new cutters and their associated small boats, a new fixed-wing manned aircraft fleet, a combination of new and upgraded helicopters, and both cutter-based and land- based UAVs. All of these highly capable assets will be linked with C4ISR systems, and are supported by an integrated logistics regime.


A modified Global Hawk is being offered to fulfill the requirement for a high- altitude, long-endurance land-based UAV, providing operational Coast Guard commanders with high-resolution, near real-time imagery of large geographic areas. Its advanced technology sensors, a 1,900-pound reconfigurable payload bay, and the ability to remain in flight for long periods will provide commanders with important new capabilities to obtain the intelligence needed to achieve information dominance in the ever-changing maritime domain.


Global Hawk's 10,000-nautical-mile range and 32 hour endurance, combined with satellite and line-of-sight communication links to other air and surface platforms and operation centers ashore, will permit wide-area surveillance and monitoring operations. High-resolution sensors that can look through adverse weather at day or night from an altitude of 60,000 feet can conduct surveillance over an area roughly the size of Illinois in just 24 hours.

International Overview


EuroHawk is a Global Hawk derivative equipped with a new signals intelligence system sensor being offered by Northrop Grumman and EADS to the German MoD. Global Hawk demonstrated its ability to satisfy the MoD HALE wide area surveillance requirement during tests at Nordholz, Germany in Fall 2003, where it flew 6 successful sorties equipped with an EADS-developed ELINT sensor.


To deploy an independent German SIGINT surveillance and reconnaissance system by 2008, the German MoD has requested that a proposal on EuroHawk be delivered by midyear, 2004. Northrop Grumman and EADS are on schedule for the proposal delivery are expecting to get parliamentary approval by the end of this year. The first prototype delivery is scheduled for mid 2007, with contract approval for series production and initial operational capability expected mid 2008. This schedule will ensure an on-time replacement for the ageing fleet of SIGINT equipped Breguet Atlantiques currently in service.


Another significant milestone in the EuroHawk programme was the founding of a joint venture between Northrop Grumman and EADS. This new company, which will be based in Germany, will be tailored to the customer's requirements and act as the national prime contractor for the German MoD through the entire lifecycle of the system. A related agreement to guarantee necessary technology and information transfer between Germany and the US is currently being defined by the two governments.



A mixed fleet of Global Hawks and Airbus A321s will make up the core of the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system. AGS provides an essential enabling capability for the NATO Response Force and will provide Alliance political decision-makers and military planners with an invaluable "Eye in the Sky" with which to gather critical information on what is happening on the ground during peacetime, crisis or war. The core will be supplemented by interoperable national assets as part of a broader Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) system-of-systems.


The AGS system will be produced by the Transatlantic Industrial Proposed Solution (TIPS), a consortium made up of Northrop Grumman, EADS, Galileo Avionica, General Dynamics Canada, Indra, and Thales. NATO awarded the TIPS contract on April 16, 2004.


NATO's decision takes a major step forward in fielding an operationally essential capability for Alliance forces that will be a building block for NATO's network- enabled capability, an important element of NATO transformation. Building on legacy systems and lessons learned from real world operations, TIPS will meet NATO's intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and command and control requirements for the 21st century.

(Based on resources provided by Northrop Grumman.)