Northrop Grumman has formally offered a powerful new sensor designed - and recently test-flown - for the RQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle to a wide range of other US Air Force aircraft.
A manned Proteus aircraft, acting as an RQ-4B surrogate, in late January began a two-month system validation flight-test phase for the multi-platform radar technology insertion programme (MP-RTIP) radar. Meanwhile, the first Block 40 Global Hawk, AF-18, is scheduled to begin flight tests with the 0.46 x 1.2m (1.5t x 4ft) sensor after June.
The USAF originally planned to install a larger version of the radar on the E-10A, the cancelled replacement for the Northrop E-8C JSTARS airborne ground surveillance system. Northrop is now under contract to study the feasibility of integrating a 1.5 x 6.1m version of the MP-RTIP on the re-engined E-8C fleet.
But the MP-RTIP programme could push even further into the USAF inventory. At the USAF's request, Northrop has submitted a series of new proposals to expand the footprint of the new synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and ground moving target indicator (GMTI) sensor.
"We have over the course of the last six months given the air force several alternative proposals for the use of RTIP on multiple platforms," says Bill Walker, Northrop business development manager.
Northrop officials decline to describe specific applications, but some alternatives involve aircraft that range in size between the RQ-4B and E-8C, Walker says. Another idea is to install the radar on low-flying aircraft in the same class as the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper UAV. The USAF soon plans to launch development of a new hunter-killer unmanned aircraft to replace or augment the MQ-9 fleet.
Interest is high across the Department of Defense in a new generation of powerful tools for enabling the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission. MP-RTIP includes modes that allow the sensor operator to simultaneously collect SAR and GMTI imagery for multiple targets.
George Vardoulakis, vice-president and programme manager for MP-RTIP, expects the USAF's current plan to purchase 15 RQ-4Bs equipped with the radar to grow in the next long-term budget plan - the fiscal year 2010 programme objective memoranda.
Other services are interested in the same capability. The US Navy, for instance, plans to add the ISR and target attack mission to the EP-X electronic intelligence fleet, which will replace its Lockheed EP-3E Aries IIs. MP-RTIP and Raytheon's littoral surveillance radar system, now deployed on the navy's Lockheed P-3C Orion fleet, are two systems in the EP-X class.
Northrop officials decline to discuss the EP-X opportunity. However, Vardoulakis says: "We have not responded to any requests for that aircraft."