Global Hawk Block 40 Among Programs with Testing Issues

 - February 4, 2014, 8:04 PM
The U.S. Air Force’s RQ-4B Global Hawk is among programs that experienced problems during early testing last year. (Photo: Northrop Grumman)

The U.S. Air Force’s RQ-4B Global Hawk is among 16 acquisition programs that experienced problems during early testing last year that need to be corrected, according to the Pentagon’s Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E).

In his annual report to Congress, released in January, OT&E director J. Michael Gilmore identified 44 programs that had developmental test issues in Fiscal Year 2013 that could affect operational testing. He divides those programs into four categories, or “cases,” based on when they discovered problems in the development cycle. Case 1 represents the worst case, in which a program discovered problems later in the cycle, during operational testing. Programs in Cases 1 through 3 have since “responded appropriately” to resolve issues; Case 4 programs, including the RQ-4B, have issues that still must be corrected, Gilmore said.

The Global Hawk the DOT&E lists in its “problem discovery” section is the Block 40 variant carrying the Northrop Grumman-Raytheon multi-platform radar technology insertion program (MP-RTIP) sensor, an active electronically scanned array radar that can simultaneously collect imagery on stationary ground targets and track moving ground targets. The Air Force has sought to cancel both the Block 40 and the Block 30 signals-intelligence variant, which have been preserved by Congress. Northrop Grumman has delivered nine of 11 Block 40s ordered.

Last March, the Air Force conducted an operational utility evaluation (OUE) of the RQ-4B with the MP-RTIP sensor payload and discovered “previously unidentified shortfalls in synthetic aperture radar (SAR) stationary target imagery capabilities” that did not meet operational requirements for image resolution, according to the DOT&E. “MP-RTIP operator displays and control interfaces are also immature, which significantly increases operator workload during target-intense operations,” the office added. “During OUE missions, frequent MP-RTIP sensor faults required sensor operators to halt intelligence-collection operations to reset or restart the system. Resulting sensor downtime reduced on‑station intelligence collection time by 23 percent.” The office noted that early operational tests were not required for early fielding of the SAR capability by the U.S. Central Command.

In response, Northrop Grumman issued a statement saying that it “has always focused on the mission and on providing the best solution to meet mission requirements set by our U.S. Air Force customers. As requirements change, we work closely with the U.S. Air Force to meet and exceed their requirements; and we’re doing that every day. Global Hawk is the only high-altitude platform that carries three dissimilar sensors simultaneously: a radar, a camera and a signals intelligence package, along with multiple communications links…The Air Force specified the requirements for this sensor package and Global Hawk meets all of the specified requirements.”

The Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and MQ-8 Fire Scout programs, and the Navy and Marine Corps’ RQ-21A Blackjack small tactical UAS are among Case 3 programs that delayed operational testing to correct problems found earlier during developmental testing. The Navy delayed operational testing of the Super Hornet’s most recent software upgrade, called the Software Configuration Set H8E, in response to problems with six of 14 new capabilities.

The multi-static active coherent (MAC) sonar system the Navy’s P-3C Orion and P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft use was among 12 programs listed as Case 1, in which problems were discovered during operational testing last year that should have been discovered during developmental testing. Operational testing of the MAC system “revealed that the presentation of a valid target to the operator can vary significantly between environments and likely target types, making operator training and recognition of target-specific characteristics critical to performance,” the DOT&E said. Data from a May 2013 test was invalidated because of the phenomenon; the Navy repeated the operational test in October.