ATC integration poses challenge for Euro Hawk

Paris Air Show » 2009
June 5, 2009, 6:28 AM

If all goes well, the German air force could be the first air arm to routinely operate a military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in European airspace. The first Euro Hawk should fly from the U.S. to the Manching test base in southern German during mid-2010 and begin operational flight evaluations from Schleswig-Jagel air base a year later. The Euro Hawk is a SIGINT version of the Global Hawk built by Northrop Grumman in a joint venture with EADS Defence and Security (Hall 2, Stand A151).

But the air force is well aware of the procedural and technical hurdles that still lie ahead, if the schedule is to be maintained. “Certification and integration of the air vehicle is a critical issue. The European authorities will require more than one ‘see-and-avoid’ sensor, so integration into nonsegregated airspace will be difficult,” said Lt. Col. Eberhard Knoelker of Germany’s Air Staff speaking at the Air Surveillance and Reconnaissance 2009 conference, which was organized by Defence IQ. The technical hurdles mainly concern the integration of the integrated signals intelligence system (ISIS) system supplied by EADS Defence and Security.

The air force is buying five Euro Hawks to replace the two remaining Atlantic maritime patrol planes that were converted for SIGINT in the 1970s. They have a crew of 12. Germany evaluated manned replacements for the Atlantics, including conversions of an Airbus A320 airliner and a Bombardier Global Express business jet, but the development, acquisition and operating costs over 20 years of a manned aircraft worked out to be much more expensive: ?2.5 billion for the business jet versus ?1.4 billion for the UAV system. A Global Hawk flew six demonstrations for the air force from Nordholz air base in 2003. The contract was signed in early 2007.

The Euro Hawk airframe is based on the Block 20 Global Hawk that is now being delivered to the U.S. Air Force, with the same payload (3,000 pounds) and mtow (just under 32,000 pounds). But there are six wing-mounted pods, 14 antennas and 200 wiring harnesses that are unique to the German aircraft and the ISIS.

Data from the ISIS is relayed by a Ku-band satellite link or the X-band common datalink to the standard Global Hawk mission control element (MCE) ground station. From there it is sent to a SIGINT Ground Support Station (SIGSS) designed by EADS. This is a truck-mounted container that can house six analysts. SIGSS consists of this mobile component for data exploitation and dissemination, and a separate, stationary component for mission planning purposes.

The contract is a commercial one, signed with Germany-based Eurohawk Gmbh, which is the joint venture. The development cost of the Euro Hawk (including one demonstration system) will be approximately $675 million. The four production systems will cost approximately $135 million each. Up to another $128 million is being spent on contractor logistics support and ancillary items. 

The first Euro Hawk is due to perform about 12 initial test fights from Edwards Air Force Base in California starting this year. They will explore whether the airframe performance is affected by the SIGINT system–the German air force expects an endurance of at least 28 hours in a cruise-climb from 50,000 to 60,000 feet.

The actual integration of ISIS will be done after the demo aircraft is flown to Manching. At some stage, the test flights must verify whether sufficient power can be supplied to the sensors and whether there is any mutual impairment (that is, “shadowing”) of the antennas.

But it’s that question of certification and airspace integration that most worries Lieutenant Colonel Knoelker. “The Euro Hawk safety case is a sophisticated document,” he noted. European airframe certification requirements are tougher than their U.S. equivalents, he believes. Certification of the UAV controllers in the ground station is another issue: Will a CPL/IFR be sufficient? The Euro Hawk can climb through busy airspace to its high operating altitude and descend again quite quickly, he noted. However, the GAF expects to close airspace through notams for these transits, at least initially.    

For more information on the Air Surveillance and Reconnaissance 2009 conference visit www.defenceiq.com.

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