The Northrop Grumman-built Euro Hawk unmanned air vehicle will fly again after the German air force decided to resume testing of the aircraft and its Airbus Defence & Space signals intelligence (SIGINT) payload.
Since the cancellation of Euro Hawk in May 2013, Germany's one RQ-4 Global Hawk-derived full-scale demonstrator has been in storage at Manching Air Base. Plans hatched last year will see testing resume as Germany looks to field the SIGINT payload, perhaps on an alternative platform.
“Working with our German partners, we are returning our full-scale demonstrator to flight status and we continue to negotiate with the German Air Force to prove out that [Airbus] payload that we’re currently under contract with,” says Northrop Global Hawk chief Mick Jaggers. “I have a crew in Manching right now putting that aircraft back into flight status.”
Euro Hawk development began in 2000, but the programme was shuttered because of concerns about airworthiness and unmanned aircraft integration in European airspace.
Early-model Global Hawks do not have a weather radar or anti-icing systems, and cannot automatically detect and avoid other aircraft when transiting to their operating altitudes of 60,000ft.
Germany is considering several options for hosting the Airbus-developed electronic and communications intelligence sensor, which began flight testing in January 2013 before being truncated.
One option is the Global Hawk-derived MQ-4C Triton – being built for the US Navy and Australia – or perhaps the same Global Hawk type being delivered to NATO for its Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) programme. Another option is to host the payload on a manned business jet aircraft.
Jaggers says airspace integration is not as problematic as it once was for the Global Hawk type.
“We’ve been in a couple of demos in the European theatre, including Unified Vision in 2014 and Trident Juncture in 2015,” he says. “When you look at the airspace that was opened for us, we’ve been through the entire European airspace right now.”
Three “Q-4” types will eventually be hosted in Europe at Sigonella Air Base in Italy: the US Air Force and NATO Global Hawks and MQ-4C Triton. The US military has already begun developing sense-and-avoid technologies and adverse weather modifications for its RQ-4s.