Northrop Grumman has begun end-to-end testing of a powerful new multi-spectral sensor on the RQ-4 Global Hawk this week.

The United Technologies Aerospace Systems (UTAS) MS-177 represents the next generation of the Senior Year Electro-Optical Reconnaissance System-2 (SYERS-2), carried on the Lockheed Martin U-2S Dragon Lady high-altitude manned reconnaissance aircraft.

The MS-177 leverages SYERS-2 technology, but is able to swivel 25 degrees fore and aft. As part of a plan to bring the Global Hawk to parity with the U-2S, and eventually replace the manned platform, Northrop is testing the MS-177, SYERS-2 and the Optical Bar Camera.

Northrop completed a first flight with the MS-177 in March, after scheduling conflicts at Edwards AFB, California, delayed airworthiness testing originally scheduled for December. The MS-177 also required software upgrades to make the sensor operationally relevant, says Mike Lyons, Northrop's Global Hawk business development lead. With those improvements complete, Northrop was able to start full-scale testing this week, he says.

“Starting now, it’s going to be end-to-end testing from sensor tasking through dissemination to verify that everything works the way it should work,” Lyons says.

Through early summer, government and industry teams at Edwards AFB will put the sensor through range and endurance testing. Once those tests wrap up, the air force will move onto operational testing. Northrop expects to field the MS-177 by December.

Today, the MS-177 operates day and night with a high-resolution, long-range camera that can capture full motion video of a target. In the future, the next iteration of the sensor, the MS-177A, could differentiate between materials in the same way that polarized sunglasses can eliminate glare off of the water or see under the surface, Lyons says.

Northrop is also examining new signals intelligence payloads that will expand ISR and potentially support strike missions, he adds. The potential payloads would not overlap with a planned signals intelligence (SIGINT) mission for the Navy’s Triton, another Northrop UAV. The signals intelligence for Global Hawk is a significantly expanded capability from the planned payload for Triton, Lyons says. RQ-4 Block 30 fleet currently employs the Northrop Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload (ASIP), a high-and low-band passive receiver system.

“We already have a SIGINT capability on the Global Hawk,” he says. “This isn’t meant to replace that, it’s meant to expand what’s done with the signals.”