Northrop Grumman and U.S. Air Force Unveil Next-Generation of High-Flying Global Hawk


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May 6, 2009
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Northrop Grumman and U.S. Air Force Unveil Next-Generation of High-Flying Global Hawk Unmanned Aircraft

(Source: Northrop Grumman Corp.; issued June 25, 2009)
PALMDALE, Calif. --- Northrop Grumman Corporation and the U.S. Air Force unveiled the next-generation of high-flying unmanned aircraft - the RQ-4 Block 40 Global Hawk - in a ceremony today at Northrop Grumman's Palmdale, Calif., manufacturing facility.

"This unveiling of the first of 15 Block 40 aircraft is a significant step to fielding Global Hawk to Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, in 2010 and reaffirms our excellent track record of delivering Global Hawks since low rate production began," said Duke Dufresne, sector vice president for Northrop Grumman Aerospace System's Strike and Surveillance Systems Division.

"Carrying an advanced, all-weather multi-platform radar technology insertion program (MP-RTIP) sensor, the Block 40 aircraft will provide game-changing situational awareness for our warfighters with its unprecedented capability to detect, track and identify stationary and moving targets."

Use of the MP-RTIP sensor on the Block 40 Global Hawks marks the first time the active electronic scanned array (AESA) technology has been used on a high-altitude unmanned aircraft. AESA technology provides all-weather, day-night synthetic aperture radar mapping and ground moving target indicator capability.

"The Global Hawk system is in high demand by joint warfighters overseas, having successfully flown more than 31,000 hours since 2001," said Steve Amburgey, Global Hawk program director for the 303rd Aeronautical Systems Group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. "Congratulations to the entire Global Hawk team for continuing to provide our service men and women with a reliable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) system."

Designated AF-18, this Block 40 aircraft was the 27th Global Hawk built since the program's inception in 1995 and is scheduled to begin flight testing next month.

"This magnificent aircraft represents the future of Grand Forks Air Force Base. This and the rest of the Block 40 fleet will make significant contributions to the safety and security of our nation for years to come," said Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota. "I look forward to seeing this airframe on the Grand Forks ramp next year."

Global Hawk's range, endurance and large payload capabilities are well suited to support a variety of customers and missions, including environmental and Earth science research, homeland security, border and coastal patrol, hurricane and fire monitoring, and other disaster relief support activities. Global Hawk effectively provided imagery of the California wildfires in 2007 and 2008, and of Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Flying at altitudes of more than 60,000 feet for more than 32 hours per sortie at speeds approaching 340 knots, the MP-RTIP-equipped Block 40 Global Hawk can persistently see through most type of weather, day or night. As the world's first fully autonomous high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system, Global Hawk is the platform of choice for a wide variety of sensors, foreign and domestic, meeting the global need for persistent ISR.

Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for the Global Hawk and MP-RTIP programs and continues to move these technologies forward under the stewardship of the Air Force's Aeronautical Systems Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and the Electronic Systems Center, located at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass. Northrop Grumman's Norwalk, Conn., facility is the principal MP-RTIP radar developer along with principal subcontractor, Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, El Segundo. The development MP-RTIP sensor is undergoing a radar system level performance verification on a surrogate aircraft, and will be integrated into AF-18 for an operational evaluation.

Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk program is based at its Aerospace Systems' Unmanned Systems Development Center in San Diego, Calif. The company performs Global Hawk sub-assembly work at its Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, Miss., and final assembly at its Antelope Valley Manufacturing Center in Palmdale.

The principal Global Hawk industry team includes: Aurora Flight Sciences, Bridgeport, West Va. (V-tail assembly and other composite structures); L-3 Communications, Salt Lake City (communication system); Raytheon Company, Waltham, Mass. (ground station); Rolls-Royce Corporation, Indianapolis (engine); and Vought Aircraft Industries, Dallas (wing).

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a leading global security company whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and solutions in aerospace, electronics, information systems, shipbuilding and technical services to government and commercial customers worldwide.


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Empty Weight Including Fluids9,200lb
Payload1,900lb (RQ-4B - 3,000lb)
Take-Off Fuel14,500lb
Take-Off Gross Weight25,600lb (RQ-4B - 32,250lb)
EngineRolls-Royce North America AE3007H turbofan
Maximum Endurance42 hours (RQ-4B - 33 hours)
On-Station Endurance at 3,000nm24 hours

RQ-4A Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial reconnaissance system which provides military field commanders with high resolution, near real-time imagery of large geographic areas.

The programme is funded by the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO) and managed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the US Air Force.

Northrop Grumman Corporation, Ryan Aeronautical Centre is the prime contractor and the principal suppliers include Raytheon Systems (sensors), Rolls-Royce North America (turbofan engine), Boeing North American (carbon fibre wing) and L3 Communications (communications system).

"Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance, unmanned aerial reconnaissance system."
The Global Hawk air vehicles are built at the Northrop Grumman (formerly Teledyne Ryan) aeronautical facility in San Diego.

Global Hawk development

In March 2001, the US Department of Defense awarded Northrop Grumman a contract for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase of the programme which concluded in February 2003 with the final delivery of the seventh pre-production (block 0) vehicle.

In June 2001 a contract was placed to begin low-rate initial production (LRIP) for two production air vehicles and the mission control element of the system's ground station, to be completed by December 2003.

The first production vehicle (block 10) rolled out in August 2003. A further LRIP contract for four vehicles was placed in February 2003 and a third in October 2004 for two vehicles. Block 10 deliveries were completed in June 2006.

The US Navy had two RQ-4A air vehicles delivered in 2005. In April 2008, the USN selected the RQ-4N marinised variant of the Global Hawk RQ-4B Block 20 for the broad-area maritime surveillance (BAMS) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) requirement.

The system design and development (SDD) contract awarded to Northrop Grumman requires the delivery of two UAVs with mission payloads and communication suites, one forward operating base mission control system, one systems integration laboratory and one main operating base mission control system.

The RQ-4N will have a Northrop Grumman active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, Raytheon electro-optic / infrared sensors, L-3 communications suite and Sierra Nevada Corp. Merlin electronic support measures (ESM). The RQ-4N is planned for maiden flight in 2011 and service entry in 2014.

RQ-4B next generation

Northrop Grumman is developing the next-generation, RQ-4B, which has a 50% payload increase, larger wingspan (130.9ft) and longer fuselage (47.6ft), and new generator to provide 150% more electrical output. Three RQ-4B air vehicles (block 20) were initially ordered plus a further five ordered in November 2005. Block 20 aircraft also have an upgraded sensor suite.

The first block 20 Global Hawk completed a maiden flight in April 2007 and the first was delivered in June 2008. 26 block 30 with a signals intelligence (SIGINT) payload will be ordered and 15 block 40 with the multi-platform radar technology insertion programme (MP-RTIP) radar, to enter service from 2011. The US Air Force plans a total of 54 air vehicles.

"The V-configuration of the tail provides a low radar and infrared signature."
The block 40 Global Hawk, with the multi-platform radar technology insertion programme (MP-RTIP), has been selected by Nato for the alliance ground surveillance (AGS) programme. The original proposal had manned and unmanned elements but the Alliance decided to go ahead with a UAV-only programme in September 2007. Northrop Grumman will be the prime contractor.

The Australian Defence Force has plans to purchase a squadron of Global Hawks to replace a number of P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft.

Record-breaking flights

In April 2001, Global Hawk made aviation history when it completed the first non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean by an unmanned, powered aircraft, flying from Edwards AFB, California, to the Royal Australian Air Force Base, Edinburgh, South Australia.

Global Hawk successfully participated in a series of exercises with the RAAF, the Royal Australian Navy and the US Navy. Guinness World Records has recognised the flight as the longest (13,840km) by a full-scale unmanned aircraft.

In August 2003, Global Hawk became the first UAV to receive authorisation from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly in national airspace.

Unmanned reconnaissance capability

Global Hawk can carry out reconnaissance missions in all types of operations. The 14,000nm range and 42-hour endurance of the air vehicle, combined with satellite and line-of-sight communication links to ground forces, permits worldwide operation of the system.

High-resolution sensors, including visible and infrared electro-optical systems and synthetic aperture radar, will conduct surveillance over an area of 40,000nm² to an altitude of 65,000ft in 24 hours.

Six Global Hawk demonstrator vehicles have been deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan since 2002 and Operation Iraqi Freedom since 2003, completing over 4,300 combat hours.

Two ex-USAF Global Hawk demonstrators were transferred to NASA's Dryden Research Center at Edwards AFB, California in January 2008, for use as airborne science research platforms.

Flight and navigation control

The vehicle's flight control, vehicle management software and navigation functions are managed by two integrated mission management computers (IMMC) developed by Vista Controls Corporation, California. The IMMC integrates data from the navigation system and uses Kalman filtering algorithms.

The prime navigation and control system consists of two KN-4072 INS/GPS (inertial navigation system / global positioning system) systems supplied by Kearfott Guidance & Navigation Corporation of Wayne, New Jersey.

"The Global Hawk has a 14,000nm range and 42-hour endurance."
The KN-4072 includes a monolithic ring laser gyro (MRLG) which operates in conjunction with an embedded differential ready C/A code GPS receiver for enhanced navigation performance and faster satellite acquisition. A Northrop Grumman (Litton) navigation system is installed on the IR/TV/SAR payload.


Raytheon Space & Airborne Systems supplies the Global Hawk integrated sensor suite (ISS) which includes the synthetic aperture radar and the electro-optical and third-generation infrared sensor system.

A 10in reflecting telescope provides common optics for infrared and electro-optical sensors. The electro-optical / infrared sensor operates in the 0.4 to 0.8 micron visible waveband and the 3.6 to 5-micron infrared band. In spot collection mode the coverage is 1,900 spots a day with spot size 2km² to a geological accuracy of 20m circular error of probability. In wide area search mode, the swath is 10km wide and the coverage is 40,000nm² a day.

The synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indicator (GMTI) operates at X-band with a 600MHz bandwidth, and 3.5kW peak power. The system can obtain images with 3ft resolution in its wide area search mode and 1ft resolution in its spot mode.

Raytheon is contracted to supply one enhanced integrated sensor suite (EISS) which is said to improve the range of both SAR and infrared system by 50%.

The Raytheon ground station receives the high-quality imagery obtained by the air vehicle sensor suite. The ground system forwards the imagery to military commanders and users in the field.

Northrop Grumman is prime contractor, with Raytheon as major subcontractor, for the USAF multi-platform radar technology insertion program (MP-RTIP). MP-RTIP is an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar that can be scaled in size for different platforms.

Three MP-RTIP systems are being built for Global Hawk and three for the E-10A multi-sensor command and control aircraft (MC2A). Global Hawk with MP-RTIP is scheduled for delivery in 2011.

"The Global Hawk flies high at a loiter altitude of 65,000ft minimising exposure to surface-to-air missiles."
In January 2006, a Global Hawk made its first flight carrying Northrop Grumman's high-band system production configuration unit (HBS PCU), part of the USAF's airborne signals intelligence payload, being developed for operational deployment in 2008.

Northrop Grumman is also looking at other payloads including hyperspectral sensors for chemical and biological agent detection.

In November 2003, Global Hawk completed a series of flight tests in the USA and Germany carrying an EADS electronic intelligence (ELINT) payload. The 'Euro Hawk' is being offered to the German Air Force as a replacement SIGINT platform.

In February 2007, the German Air Force awarded a contract to Eurohawk GmbH (a joint venture company formed by Northrop Grumman and EADS) for the development of Euro Hawk. Under the contract, one demonstrator will be delivered in 2010 followed by four UAVs between 2011 and 2014. Euro Hawk will replace the German AF Breguet Atlantic fleet.


Global Hawk has wide band satellite data links and line of sight data links developed by L3 Communications. The 'bulge' at the top front surface of the fuselage which gives Global Hawk its distinctive appearance, houses the 48in Ku-band wideband satellite communications antenna. Data is transferred by Ku-band satellite communications, X-band line-of-sight links and both Satcom and line of sight links at UHF-band.


For increased survivability the mission is planned for threat avoidance using available theatre assets such as AWACS, combat air patrol and JSTARS. The aircraft flies high at a loiter altitude 65,000ft which minimises exposure to surface-to-air missiles. The aircraft's modular self-defence system includes an AN/ALR 89 radar warning receiver, an on-board jamming system and an ALE 50 towed decoy system.

Air vehicle construction

The wings and tail of the aircraft are of graphite composite construction. The V-configuration of the tail, built by Aurora Flight Sciences, provides a low radar and infrared signature. The wings, constructed by Vought Aircraft Industries, have a span of 116.2ft, with hard points for external pods up to 1,000lb each. Vought and ATK are fabricating an enhanced wing, one of a number of system improvements to enable Global Hawk to carry an increased payload.

The aluminium fuselage contains pressurised payload and avionics compartments. Honeywell Aerospace, Torrance, California, supplied the environmental control systems.

"Global Hawk made the first non-stop, unmanned, powered flight across the Pacific Ocean."
The landing gear is supplied by Heroux Inc. of Quebec, Canada. The nose gear which is a derivative of the F-5 design is height adjustable to suit the runway characteristics. The landing gear automatically retracts at an altitude of 4,000ft.

Global Hawk is equipped with an AE 3007H turbofan engine supplied by Rolls-Royce North America. The engine is mounted on the top surface of the rear fuselage section with the engine exhaust between the V-shaped tail wings. Smiths Aerospace is providing a new electric generator system to more than double electrical power.

Mission planning

Mission planning for the Global Hawk was developed by GDE Systems Inc (now BAE Systems, Electronics & Integrated Solutions). The Raytheon Intelligence & Information Systems mission control ground station includes a shelter measuring 8ft×8ft×24ft housing the communications, command and control, mission planning and image processing computers with four workstations for the mission control staff and officers. The mission control centre has data up- and down-links to the Global Hawk vehicle directly and via the Ku satellite and the UHF satellite systems.

The Raytheon launch and recovery ground station is housed in an 8ft x 8ft x 10ft shelter equipped with two workstations and the launch and recovery mission computers. The launch and recovery station has up- and down- data communications links to the Global Hawk vehicle and to the UHF communications satellite.


The complete mission control element (MCE) and the launch and recovery element (LRE) is transportable in a single load on the C-5B transporter aircraft and in less than two loads on the C-17 transporter.

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