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RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV
As of 2011, the RQ-4 Global Hawk is the largest UAV in world. Operated by the U.S. Air Force and Navy, the Global Hawk provides intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability as a High-Altitude Long-Endurance (HAE) UAV. It is used to support joint combatant forces in peacetime, contingency, and wartime operations. Known as the "theater commander's around-the-clock, low-hanging (surveillance) satellite," the Global Hawk provides long-dwell presence over a battle space, imaging a land area as large as 50,000 square miles. The Global Hawk can operate in any weather, during the day and night, and will ultimately replace the U-2 spy plane. The Global Hawk was first deployed in Operating Enduring Freedom in 2001.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV): RQ-4 Global Hawk Development
In 1994 DARPA put out a request for proposals for the "Tier-II+" HAE UAV requirement. In 1995 DARPA awarded an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (ACTD) contract to Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical, now a part of Northrop Grumman. The resulting prototype was given the designation RQ-4A in January 1997, with the "R" referring to "reconnaissance" and the "Q" being the standard designation for a UAV.
The first of five ACTD aircraft flew in February 1998. During development, the Global Hawk received the 2000 Collier Trophy for aeronautical achievement by completing the first autonomous UAV flight across the Pacific Ocean, flying from California to Australia in a little more than 23 hours. It also set a world endurance record for a jet-powered UAV by staying airborne for more than 31.5 hours at an average altitude of 65,100 feet.
The prototypes were designated Y-RQ-4A, a designation that continued in use for RQ-4As modified to test new components or technologies, or for general improvement to the Global Hawk. One of the first prototypes, the Air Vehicle-3 (AV-3, s/n: 98-2003) was deployed to Afghanistan by the Air Force in the wake of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. Nicknamed "Grumpy" because of cranky behavior, AV-3 also flew reconnaissance missions as a part of Operation Southern Watch (OSW), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF), Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), and in the Combined Task Force-Horn of Africa.
The success of the prototypes and the capabilities of the Global Hawk led to start of engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) in March 2001, and low-rate initial production was approved in February 2002.
The RQ-4 Global Hawk is conceptually similar to the Lockheed U-2 spy plane. It takes off and lands on a conventional runway, using retractable tricycle landing gear. The UAV is equipped with an AN/ALR-69 radar warning receiver and AN/ALE-50 towed decoys for defense.
The onboard sensors on a Global Hawk UAV include Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) with a Moving Target Indicator (MTI), an electro-optical (E/O) digital camera, and medium-wave infrared (IR) sensor. The SAR/MTI can even track small, moving objects on the ground. The UAV uses a wideband SATCOM antenna 4-ft. in diameter housed in the UAV's bulging nose to communicate with its operators through satellite and ground relay stations.
The Global Hawk can be pre-programmed to undertake a 1,200-mile flight to an area of interest, then loiter there for 24 hours, and return to its base. During its 24 hours of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations, it can survey an area the size of Illinois while staying above the range of enemy anti-aircraft defenses.
A Global Hawk system consists of two RQ-4 UAVs and two ground stations, the RD-2B Launch and Recovery Element (LRE) and the RD-2A Mission Control Element (MCE). The LRE uploads autonomous flight plans, controls the UAV during takeoff and landing, and monitors flight performance. The MCE oversees the UAV and its sensor packages during flight. The two teams can control up to three RQ-4s at the same time.
The LRE is positioned at the Global Hawk's base. It launches the UAV and manages it until handoff to the MCE. The LRE has one pilot station for operation without sensors. The MCE takes over operation of the Global Hawk, with one pilot to control the UAV and a sensor operator to monitor data feeds. Workstations in the MCE and LRE resemble a cockpit, providing information about the UAV's condition and status, onboard sensor status, and the capability to adjust the flight of the UAV or its collection plan.
The U.S. Navy began testing the RQ-4A on 6 October 2004 with a flight from Palmdale to Edwards Air Force Base in California. This Global Hawk and one other were acquired as a part of the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD) program. In April 2008 the Global Hawk won the Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Unmanned Aircraft System (BAM UAS) competition. The first BAMS Global Hawk is based on the RQ-4B variant, and is designated the RQ-4N.
The success of the Global Hawk in its testing and operational phases led to its becoming the only UAV to meet both military and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) airworthiness standards, and to be approved for regular flight within U.S. airspace (up to 2011).
The Global Hawk is operated by the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron of the Air Force. The 1st Reconnaissance Squadron provides formal training; both squadrons are located at Beale Air Force Base in California. Flight test evaluations are performed by the 452nd Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base, CA.
Northrop Grumman plans to produce Global Hawks until about 2013. There are two variants of the Global Hawk, the RQ-4A and RQ-4B. Northrop Grumman built a total of 16 RQ-4As. The RQ-4B is an upgraded version of the original, with improved flight performance and increased payload, additional signals intelligence (SIGINT) and electronic intelligence (ELINT) capabilities, though with a reduced range.
RQ-4 Global Hawk Operational History
The Global Hawk was first deployed in 2001, during Operation Enduring Freedom. It was used for imagery intelligence, providing more than 15,000 images during 50 combat missions totaling over 1,000 flight hours.
In Afghanistan, two Global Hawk UAVs were lost to crashes, one in December 2001, and the other in July 2002.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Global Hawk used its SAR sensor package to find Iraqi targets on 24-27 March 2003 during a severe sandstorm. The Global Hawk tracked Iraqi Republican Guard forces, providing sufficiently accurate information for fighters and bombers to attack using the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) weapon.
NASA received two Global Hawk UAVs in December 2007 from the Air Force. At the Dryden Flight Research Center, NASA is using the Global Hawk for Earth science missions. These Global Hawks were among the first built, and were transferred to NASA when the Air Force no longer had use for them. On 2 September 2010, one Global Hawk successfully flew into Hurricane Earl.
In March 2011, the Global Hawk was deployed to northern Japan to provide real-time surveillance of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant damaged in the 11 March earthquake and tsunami.
Characteristics of the RQ-4 Global Hawk
Recommended Books about the RQ-4 Global Hawk and UAVs
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