US Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance project

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An announcement on the delayed platform selection for the US Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance project is expected on 7 March, with a Defense Acquisition Board meeting on the subject having slipped from late February until 5 March.

Speaking at the Singapore air show on 20 February, Northrop Grumman business development executive Thomas Twomey dismissed suggestions that the company's RQ-4N Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle is unsuitable for the BAMS requirement, which calls on the selected airframe to drop to low level to allow the visual identification of naval vessels. Although the US Air Force typically operates its Global Hawks at an altitude of 60,000ft (18,300m), Twomey says: "There are no fatigue issues with going low. We can fly from 500ft to 60,000ft, no problem."

Northrop claims that its solution can meet the USN's requirements using fewer airframes, sensors and personnel than rival bids of General Atomics' Mariner UAV and an optionally manned development of the Gulfstream G550 business jet led by Boeing. The RQ-4N - a development of the USAF's Block 20 Global Hawk - is offered with an airframe life of 40,000h, says Twomey, with Northrop suggesting that coverage could be provided using four aircraft each at five bases around the World.

The selected fleet of BAMS aircraft - potentially to total 50 airframes - will operate as an adjunct to the navy's manned Boeing P-8A Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft. "This is about persistent maritime surveillance the P-8 is the big tactical end of the stick," says Twomey.

Global Hawk airframes have now amassed more than 20,000 operational flight hours, including in excess of 10,000h flown in support of combat operations. Three USAF RQ-4As are currently supporting such operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, while the service's first Block 20 RQ-4B is undergoing flight test at Edwards AFB, California.