Northrop Grumman and EADS Cassidian conducted the first signals intelligence (Sigint) sensor test flight of the Euro Hawk unmanned aircraft system (UAS) on January 11. The aircraft flew for more than six hours and climbed to 54,000 feet in military-controlled airspace before returning to Manching Air Base in Germany, north of Munich. Bernhard Gerwert, Cassidian CEO, said the payload “showed excellent performance within the perfect interplay of the overall system.”
Euro Hawk is a Sigint-only version of Northrop Grumman’s high-altitude, long-endurance UAS, designated RQ-4E. Cassidian is developing the Sigint payload, which provides standoff capability to detect electronic and communications emitters. The EADS division is also supplying the Sigint ground station as part of an integrated system. Based on the success of the flight-test and military certification program, the German air force plans to order four more Euro Hawks for delivery between 2015 and 2017.
Germany’s ministry of defense awarded a $559 million contract to Eurohawk, a joint venture of Northrop Grumman and Cassidian, in January 2007 to develop, test and support the Sigint system. The Euro Hawk UAS completed its first flight from Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, Calif., manufacturing facility on June 29, 2010. The aircraft was flown to Germany on July 21, 2011. A further 14 test flights from Manching are planned before the UAV moves to the operational airbase at Schleswig in northern Germany.
In a briefing at last September’s ILA Berlin Air Show, Axel Schwarz, Cassidian’s chief engineer for the project, noted that the Euro Hawk will provide Germany with an independent national Sigint capability, including full access to the payload source code. The system can gather and process signals from multiple sources over a wide range of frequencies simultaneously, he said. Collection can be pre-planned and automatic, or manually controlled from the ground station. One version of the ground station will be housed in a shipping container for worldwide deployability.