Ground troops would receive real-time imagery via line-of-sight from aircraft up to hundreds of miles away

Northrop Grumman wants to enlist various aircraft types in a new effort to bypass ground stations and beam imagery collected by the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle directly to troops. The RQ-4 has been adapted with an onboard server to transmit requested imagery files to ground units with specially equipped personal digital assistants for operations in Iraq.

Northrop is proposing a mid-year demonstration that aims to spread that capability to airlifters and tankers, forming an ad hoc line-of-sight airborne network stretching hundreds of kilometres. The company had planned to install the technology on a McDonnell Douglas KDC-10 tanker owned by Evergreen/Omega Air consortium Global Air Services, but Evergreen has since opted to back out of the organisation. Northrop has secured a new agreement to lease another Evergreen-owned widebody for the "Brilliant Aircraft" demonstration, which could also include a USAir Force Northrop Grumman E-8 JSTARS and a Global Hawk - or Scaled Composites' Proteus high-altitude aircraft - if the service agrees to participate in the privately funded demonstration.

With Northrop's advanced information architecture now used on Global Hawks, the new concept would allow ground forces to receive real-time imagery on requested targets. The company expects to deliver a Brilliant Aircraft module, including a 1.4 terrabyte server and new antennas, for $10-15 million per aircraft.


Source: Flight International