RQ-4A Global Hawk
Initial Operational Capability (IOC):
Also Known As: RQ-4 Block 10 Global Hawk
Origin: United States of America
L-3 Communications, Northrop Grumman* and Raytheon (*) lead contractor
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Description: The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft with an integrated sensor suite that provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities all over the world. The RQ-4 program was developed for the United States Air Force (USAF) by Northrop Grumman in the 1990s and will eventually replace the venerable U-2 manned reconnaissance aircraft. The program started as an advanced concept technology demonstrator (ACTD) in 1995 with the aim to deliver an all-weather, day/night, wide-area surveillance system. The first aircraft was delivered to the USAF in November 2001 to support the Global War on Terror (GWOT) with the RQ-4 system reaching full operational capability by 2012. USAF plans call for the procurement of 77 aircraft (cut down to 66 aircraft in 2011) with the US Navy to procure an undisclosed number of RQ-4Ns beginning in 2014. Germany is the first export customer with five Euro Hawks on order.
The Global Hawk system consists of the RQ-4 air vehicle; mission control element (MCE) with two workstations for a pilot and a sensor operator crew; launch and recovery element (LRE) also operated by pilot with his workstation acting as the cockpit; a wide variety of sensors; command and control links covering health and status of the aircraft, sensors, navigational systems and communication links; support element; and trained personnel. The Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) sensors include synthetic aperture radar, electro-optical and medium-wave infrared sensors, and active electronically scanned array radar. The system offers a wide variety of employment options. The long range and endurance of this system allow tremendous flexibility in meeting mission requirements. In the United States Department of Defense (DoD) parlance 'R' refers to Reconnaissance and 'Q' refers to unmanned aircraft system.
The RQ-4A Global Hawk, or Global Hawk Block 10, is the initial version of the RQ-4 system deployed in November 2001 in support of the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Provides near real-time, high resolution IMINT, through the Integrated Sensor Suite (ISS) payload, of large geographic areas containing information about enemy resources, location and personnel. It is equipped with satellite (beyond-line-of-sight or BLOS) and line-of-sight (LOS) data links for communications with ground control stations. The United States Air Force RQ-4A aircraft was first deployed in November 2001 over Afghanistan during operation Enduring Freedom.
The first production RQ-4A Global Hawk unmanned aerial reconnaissance vehicle arrived at the Beale Air Force Base, California, on November 16, 2004. In August 2005, the USAF was confident to have 21 fully operational Global Hawks by 2008 and 51 by 2012 when Global Hawk series production is expected to be complete. In January 2006 the US Air Force deployed its first two production RQ-4A Global Hawk aircraft in support of the Global War on Terrorism. As of April 2011, the US Air Force requirement for Global Hawk aircraft had decreased from 77 to 66 airplanes with an unitary cost of $100.8 million.
Mission parameters are pre-programmed into the RQ-4A Global Hawk mission computer before flight. Afterwards, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) can autonomously taxi, take off, fly, remain on station collecting imagery, return and land. The Global Hawk has been deployed in support of joint US military services exercises and missions carried out with Germany and Australia. For enhanced survivability the RQ-4A unmanned aircraft features low observable technologies such as reduced radar cross section.
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