After a 21h non-stop flight from Edwards AFB, California, a prototype Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle landed in Germany on 15 October to launch a ground surveillance demonstration for the German ministry of defence.

The aircraft will be based for several weeks at the Nordholz naval air base 60km (37 miles) north west of Hamburg, where, under the EuroHawk project, it will demonstrate an electronic intelligence (Elint) payload to show that it can meet Germany's requirement for a high-altitude, long-endurance surveillance vehicle.

The work, which began as an industrial initiative in July 2000 between EADS and Northrop Grumman and became a bilateral US/German project in 2001, will also mark the first operations by a high-altitude UAV in Europe.

The flight was the first use of a national certificate of authorisation (COA), recently awarded to the Global Hawk programme by the US Federal Aviation Administration. The COA requires only one approval for a cross-country flightplan for the UAV instead of one from each FAA regional office.

Meanwhile, the US Navy has completed contract negotiations with Northrop Grumman for two Global Hawks that will be used in a maritime demonstration in spring 2005 after agreement was reached on the airframe package.

The navy considers the RQ-4 as a candidate for its Broad Area Maritime Surveillance programme. The service remains critical, however, of the Global Hawk's performance during a maritime surveillance demonstration staged in Australia in 2001, says Cdr Scott Orren, the navy's deputy programme manager for UAVs.

That demonstration revealed the Global Hawk's limitations as a wide area surveillance platform, compared with a focused reconnaissance asset, says Orren.

The navy also baulked at the size of the air force ground crew, numbering up to 200 people, needed to process sensor data. "The navy just can't do that, especially on carriers," he says.

"We need to look at making informational decisions on board versus off board. We've got to cut down on some of that traffic moving down the links," Orren says.

Source: Flight International