The U.S. is pushing ahead with a plan to share Global Hawk data and operations with Pacific Rim countries, but has still to define the scheme. Gen. Carroll Chandler, commander of Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), told journalists here Monday that a number of countries will be invited to a ‘Global Hawk Capabilities Forum” next April at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, when one of the UAVs will fly overhead at high altitude on a roundtrip from Beale AFB, California. “We’re exploring how we might incorporate partner nations in the Pacific Rim into this new mission,” a spokesman for PACAF told AIN.
The U.S. Air Force plans to station a small number of Global Hawks at Andersen AFB, Guam, from 2009. The original focus of this deployment was to replace U-2 reconnaissance aircraft that fly daily out of Osan AFB, Korea, to monitor the Korean peninsula. But former PACAF commander Gen. Paul Hester began exploring co-operative maritime surveillance of a much wider area, including the patrol of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) and important shipping lanes such as the Malacca Straits. Australia, Korea and Singapore have all expressed interest in acquiring some Global Hawks of their own. However, there are political constraints, including the Missile Control Technology Regime (MCTR).
At a briefing here yesterday, Northrop Grumman reviewed Global Hawk progress. More than 20,000 hours have now been flown, half of them “in combat” over the Middle East, where three aircraft are currently deployed. All nine RQ-4A production aircraft have been delivered–seven to the Air Force and two to the U.S. Navy. Seventeen of the enlarged RQ-4B version are in various stages of production and flight test–six Block 20s with an enhanced EO/IR sensor suite; 10 Block 30s which will also carry Northrop Grumman’s Advanced Signals Intelligence Package (ASIP); and one Block 40 in which the advanced MP-RTIP surveillance radar replaces the other sensors.
“The Global Hawk is the only UAV that has a U.S. Air Force airworthiness certificate,” noted Thomas Twomey, Northrop Grumman business development director, High Altitude Long Endurance Platforms. It is also faster than any other UAV (at 340 knots) and is the only one with pressurized payload bays, he added, seemingly directing his comments at the General Atomics Mariner/Predator B, one of NG’s competitors for the U.S. Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) competition.