The US Air Force today welcomed the first of three RQ-4 Global Hawks that will be deployed to Andersen AFB, Guam.
An arrival ceremony signals the beginning of a worldwide dispersal of the Block 30 version of the aircraft, which includes an airborne signals intelligence payload.
USAF officials plan to start flying operational missions as soon as possible, although a Northrop Grumman press release anticipates the overseas RQ-4s will become operational in early 2011.
"The minute that sensor package gets checked out and it's turned over, there will probably not be a minute that that system is not being utilised for something in this [area]. On a single flight it will be doing many, many different things," says Lt Gen Herbert Carlisle, commander of the 13th Air Force based at Hickam AFB, Hawaii.
© Northrop Grumman
The Block 30 UAV touched down at Andersen AFB
The Global Hawk flies intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions at 60,000ft (18,300m) for more that 30h at a time, beaming information to central and distributed ground stations that can then disseminate information throughout the chain of command and to allies in the Pacific as needed in real time.
The number of Global Hawks at Andersen might increase, according to Carlisle.
"The plan right now is three here," he says. "I think that could go up. It won't go down."
The Andersen-based Global Hawks could also eventually be joined by a maritime surveillance variant in development by Northrop for the US Navy. Andersen is one five bases planned for the MQ-4C broad area maritime surveillance fleet.
"It's entirely possible that the navy and the air force will bed those down together because they're complementary," Carlisle says. They'll have different capability but complementary capability."
Discussions between the naval and air services on bed down and eventual mission teaming are ongoing.
The first deployed RQ-4 arrived after an 18h ferry-flight from Beale AFB, California, where the USAF RQ-4 is permanently based.
© Northrop Grumman
Gen Gary North, commander of Pacific Air Forces, says that RQ-4 deployment to Guam is not targeted at any one nation, but is focused on "security, stability and prosperity in this part of the world.
"Having an ISR capability within the Pacific greatly enhances air force operational intelligence capabilities to meet mission requirements," North says. "Global Hawk will enhance the US and its partners' ability to effectively address regional challenges such as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, terrorism and piracy."