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Posted on September 8, 2012 at 11:45 AM

Northrop

The Northrop Grumman (formerly Ryan Aeronautical) RQ-4 Global Hawk (known as Tier II+ during development) is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) used by the United States Air Force and Navy and the German Air Force as a surveillance aircraft.

In role and operational design, the Global Hawk is similar to the Lockheed U-2, the venerable 1950s spy plane. It is a theater commander's asset to provide a broad overview and systematic target surveillance. For this purpose, the Global Hawk is able to provide high resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) – that can penetrate cloud-cover and sandstorms – and electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) imagery at long range with long loiter times over target areas. It can survey as much as 40,000 square miles (103,600 square kilometers) of terrain a day.

It is used as a high-altitude platform for surveillance and security. Missions for the Global Hawk cover the spectrum of intelligence collection capability to support forces in worldwide military operations. According to the Air Force, the capabilities of the aircraft allow more precise targeting of weapons and better protection of forces through superior surveillance capabilities.

The Global Hawk costs about US$35 million to procure each aircraft. With development costs included, the unit cost rises to US$218 million.
The United States Navy took delivery of two of the Block 10 aircraft to be used to evaluate maritime surveillance capabilities, designated N-1 (BuNo 166509) and N-2 (BuNo 166510). The initial example was tested in a naval configuration at Edwards Air Force Base for several months, later ferrying to NAS Patuxent River on 28 March 2006 to begin the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD) program. Navy squadron VX-20 was tasked with operating the GHMD system.

The GHMD aircraft flew in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise for the first time in July 2006. Although RIMPAC operations were in the vicinity of Hawaii, the aircraft was operated from Edwards, requiring flights of approximately 2,500 miles (4,000 km) each way to the operations area. Four flights were performed, resulting in over 24 hours of persistent maritime surveillance coordinated with USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Bonhomme Richard. As a part of the demonstration program, Global Hawk was tasked with maintenance of maritime situational awareness, contact tracking, and imagery support of various exercise operations. The imagery obtained by Global Hawk was transmitted to NAS Patuxent River for processing before being forwarded on to the fleet operations off Hawaii, thus exercising the global nature of this aircraft's operations.

Northrop Grumman entered a version of the RQ-4B in the US Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV contract competition. On 22 April 2008 the announcement was made that the Northrop Grumman RQ-4N had won the bid, with the Navy awarding a contract worth US$1.16 billion. In September 2010, the RQ-4N was officially designated the MQ-4C.

On 11 June 2012 a U.S. Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk crashed near Salisbury, Maryland, during a training flight from Naval Air Station Patuxent River.
Program development cost overruns had put the Global Hawk system at risk of cancellation. Per-unit costs in mid-2006 were 25% over baseline estimates, caused by both the need to correct design deficiencies as well as increase the system's capabilities. This caused some concerns about a possible congressional termination of the program if its national security benefits could not be justified. However, in June 2006, the Global Hawk program was restructured. Completion of an operational assessment report by the Air Force was delayed from August 2005 to November 2007 due to manufacturing and development delays. The operational assessment report was released in March 2007 and production of the 54 air vehicles planned has been extended by two years to 2015.

In February 2011, the Air Force reduced its planned buy of RQ-4 Block 40 aircraft from 22 to 11 in a cost-cutting move.

The U.S. Defense Department's Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) found the RQ-4B "not operationally effective" for its mission due to aircraft reliability issues in June 2011.

In June 2011, the Global Hawk was certified by the Secretary of Defense as critical to national security following a breach of the Nunn-McCurdy Amendment. The Secretary stated that: "The Global Hawk is essential to national security; there are no alternatives to Global Hawk which provide acceptable capability at less cost; Global Hawk costs $220M less per year than the U-2 to operate on a comparable mission; the U-2 cannot simultaneously carry the same sensors as the Global Hawk; and if funding must be reduced, Global Hawk has a higher priority over other programs."

On 26 January 2012, the Pentagon announced plans to end Global Hawk Block 30 procurement as the Block 30 was found to be more expensive to operate than the U-2, and its sensor suite was not as capable as the manned aircraft. Plans to increase the procurement of the Block 40 variant were also announced.
In December 2007, two Global Hawks were transferred from the U.S. Air Force to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base. Initial research activities beginning in the second quarter of 2009 supported NASA's high-altitude, long-duration Earth science missions. The three Global Hawks were the first, sixth and seventh aircraft built under the original DARPA Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration program, and were made available to NASA when the Air Force had no further need for them. Northrop Grumman is an operational partner with NASA and will use the aircraft to demonstrate new technologies and to develop new markets for the aircraft, including possible civilian uses.

According to an article in the March 2010 issue of Scientific American (p. 25-27), the Global Hawk aircraft belonging to NASA were in use for testing purposes as of October 2009, with science missions expected to start in March 2010. Initial science applications included measurements of the ozone layer and cross-Pacific transport of air pollutants and aerosols. The author of the Scientific American piece speculates that the aircraft could be used for Antarctic exploration while based in and operated from Chile.

In August and September 2010 one of the two Global Hawks was loaned for NASA's GRIP Mission (Genesis and Rapid Intensification Program), with its long-term on station capabilities and long range it was the best aircraft for the mission to monitor the development of Atlantic basin Hurricanes. It was modified to equip weather sensors including Ku-Band Radar, Lightning sensors and Dropsondes. It successfully flew into Hurricane Earl off the United States East Coast on September 2.

The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) is the aerial warfare branch of the German Armed Forces. The term "Luftwaffe" is the name of both the former World War II-era Wehrmacht Luftwaffe and the post-World War II Bundeswehr Luftwaffe air forces.

The German Empire's World War I-era army air force, the Luftstreitkräfte, and naval air units were disbanded under the term of the Treaty of Versailles. After the defeat of the Third Reich the Luftwaffe was disbanded in 1946. A new Bundeswehr Luftwaffe was founded in 1956 and remains as the German air force to the present day.

Luftwaffe is also the usual generic term in German speaking countries for any national military aviation service, and the names of air forces in other countries are usually translated into German as "Luftwaffe" (e.g. Royal Air Force is often translated as britische Luftwaffe). However, Luftstreitkräfte, or "air armed force", is also sometimes used as a translation of "air force", as first used in October 1916 for the German Empire's own Army-attched air service. And because Luft means "air" and Waffe may be translated into English as either "weapon" or "arm", "Air Arm" may be considered the most literal English translation of Luftwaffe (cf. Fleet Air Arm).

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