A ‘U-2-class' payload could be among the enhancements in store for Northrop Grumman¹s Global Hawk strategic reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle.

The 116ft-wingspan giant has a "great future," according to USAF officers who have just overseen a deployment in Australia. "We've crossed the threshold from technology demonstration to a multi-billion-dollar acquisition programme," says Maj James McCormick of the USAF's Reconnaissance Systems Division.

Speaking at the European Unmanned Vehicles Association's UAV 2001 conference on the eve of the show, McCormick revealed that the USAF was considering ramping up production of an upgraded Global Hawk version with what he called a "U-2 class" sensor payload. He said the existing sensor and aircraft control systems on current versions of the UAV were "not the best that money can buy".


Under plans announced when the Pentagon gave the go-ahead for engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) in March, 14 Block 5 air vehicles will be built with the current standard of sensor before moving on to 16 Block 10s from 2004. "Now there is great interest in accelerating production of the Block 10s," said McCormick. "If we build more than six a year it will be more cost-effective." The Block 10s will have Radar Technology Improvement Programme (RTIP) and signals intelligence sensor payloads.

McCormick said the Global Hawk had just finished a deployment to Australia, where it made a 22hr, 7,500nm (13,900km) flight across the Pacific. "During Exercise Tandem Thrust we flew 12 missions," he said. "Many people didn¹t think we would even make it to Australia."

Kevin Meiners, Pentagon director of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, said he was "very pleased" with the demonstrations in Australia.

According to McCormick, the next big event in Global Hawk's life is a major counter-drugs exercise for US Southern Command, flying from Edwards Air Force base over central America.

A full-size mock-up of Global Hawk can be seen next to the Northrop Grumman chalet at Le Bourget. The real aircraft is designed to provide strategic reconnaissance cover of crisis zones. Requirements include area coverage of up to 40,000 sq nm in 24hr, 1,900 spot images of individual targets in the same time, and 15hr time on station 300nm from base. Maximum range is 12,500nm and top speed 350kt.

Global Hawk first flew in February 1998 and has since performed 100 missions totalling 1,000hr. Teledyne Ryan was the original developer but the project has been take over by that company¹s new parent, Northrop Grumman.

Source: Flight Daily News