Two Block 20 Global Hawk aircraft have been modified to accept the Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN), a communications relay, Northrop Grumman said on Tuesday.
Paul Meyer, vice president of advanced programs and technology, joined Bill Walker, campaign lead of Global Hawk program advance capabilities business development, to give a brief on the the latest development in the RQ-4 program.
The two aircraft are currently operating over Afghanistan, "providing almost continuous coverage." Funds for two more BACN-equipped aircraft were requested in the 2012 budget.
Three aircraft were deployed to Guam in September 2010, where they continue to operate. Among them are aircraft used to examine the Fukushima Daiichi reactor for assessment of its status.
The aircraft, including Broad Area Maritime Surveillance demonstrator (BAMS-D), operate from six bases worldwide: Guam, Beale AFB, California; Patuxunt River, Maryland; Sigonella, Sicily; NASA Dryden at Edwards AFB, California; and an oft-cited "Middle Eastern airbase," widely understood to be Al-Udeid in Qatar.
Aircraft flying out of Sigonella have been operating over Libya. In one early mission, a Global Hawk achieved the aircraft's first full transition from noticing a target on the moving-target indicator (MTI) to visual contact with an optical camera, to positive identification.
Global Hawk has been requested by the Republic of Korea, and a letter of acceptance is expected shortly, indicating approval from the US military for the sale. The Euro Hawk was delivered recently to Manching air base in Germany, after a short FAA-imposed delay.
"We have indeed flown manned surrogates in a similar formation," said Meyer, referring to an artists' interpretation of a Global Hawk air-to-air refueling. "What's important about the Global Hawk aerial refueling is we're performing that activity above 35,000ft at a speed regime and a flight control regime that today's air refueling tankers are unable to support."