RQ-4 Euro Hawk UAV: Death by Certification
August 1/19: South Korea The American State Department approved a possible Sale to the Republic of Korea for Contractor Logistics Support (CLS) for RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPS). The deal is worth $950 million. The contract would enable the Republic of Korea to sustain and operate its fleet of RQ-4 Block 30 remotely piloted aircraft and will significantly advance US interests in standardization with the Republic of Korea’s Armed Forces. In 2014 South Korea signed a deal to purchase Global Hawks with production starting in 2015 and delivery expected to start last year. Due to cyber security concerns, delivery was delayed. Northrop Grumman is the principal contractor on the contract.
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAV has gone from a developmental platform to the next generation of American aerial reconnaissance. Flying at 60,000 feet, the RQ-4’s use their advanced synthetic aperture radar and other sensors to provide high-resolution images, unaffected by clouds or similar impediments. A larger RQ-4B model has been developed, and forms the backbone of current deliveries.
The transatlantic Euro Hawk project aimed to produce an RQ-4B with additional capabilities in signals intelligence collection (SIGINT), to complement its native ground surveillance capabilities. The 4-5 UAVs would provide the ability to detect and collect information from electronic intelligence (ELINT) radar emitters and communications emitters, and would be connected to ground stations that can receive and analyze the data. An MoU was signed in May 2006, followed by a firm system development contract on Jan 31/07. The Euro Hawk flew, and was performing on a technical level, but regulatory barriers killed the program in May 2013.
The Euro Hawk Program & Platform
Northrop Grumman and EADS established a 50-50 joint venture company in 2000 to pursue this program. Euro Hawk GmbH is based in Friedrichshafen, Germany, and acted as the national prime contractor for the German Ministry of Defence.
Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4B Block 20 Global Hawk was the starting point for the new system. An EADS-built SIGINT mission system will be the heart of the Euro Hawk’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) system, providing stand-off capability to detect radar emitters (ELINT) and communications emitters (COMINT). EADS would also provide the ground stations that will receive and analyze the data from Euro Hawk. The stations will be similar to existing Global Hawk Block 20 stations, with an additional workstation for the SIGINT payload.
It’s technically possible to control more than one Eurohawk from a single ground control station, as long as satellite bandwidth is sufficient. Providing satellite bandwidth will be a challenge for most militaries in the coming years, the USA included, but platforms like Euro Hawk will get priority.
Northrop Grumman and EADS initiated their transatlantic cooperation in August 2000, followed by a bilateral project agreement between the USAF and the German Ministry of Defence signed in October 2001. The first phase of the project included the operation of the HALE UAV concept, the mission system integration, and the October 2003 flight demonstration program at the German Naval Base in Nordholz.
The program stayed on track for the formal unveiling in late 2009 at the firm’s Palmdale, CA manufacturing facility. First flight and delivery to Germany was planned for 2010, but requires certification to fly in civilian airspace. While the first flight took place in June 2010, and tests began at Edwards AFB in December 2010, project and FAA certification delays pushed delivery to Germany back to July 2011.
If they could get past that certification block to allow successful testing and introduction into German operational service, Northrop Grumman anticipated that the 4 operational Euro Hawk systems would be delivered between 2016 and 2017. Instead, EASA/ICAO flight certification difficulties killed the program in 2013.
Contracts and Key Events
Rollout; Flight certification challenges; Euro Hawk finally in Germany – but certification issues kill it.
September 26/18: Scrap it, or sell it? Germany plans to sell a secondhand surveillance drone to Canada. The Euro Hawk is one of Germany’s white-elephants, having cost the country more than $823 million since its introduction. The transatlantic Euro Hawk project aimed to produce an RQ-4B with additional capabilities in signals intelligence collection (SIGINT), to complement its native ground surveillance capabilities. But the program quickly ran into several costly problems and subsequent delays. Germany ordered the Global Hawk variant from Northrop Grumman in 2000, but later cancelled the order because of skyrocketing costs and revelations that the prototype wouldn’t be certified to fly in Europe. Since then Germany demilitarised the UAV, meaning technicians removed the drone’s radio equipment, its GPS receiver and aerials, as well as all encryption and the flight control system. Considering this, it remains to be seen if Canada would truly bee interested in purchasing a gutted UAV that practically can’t fly.
2010 – 2013
June 5/13: Ministerial statement. German defense minister Thomas de Maiziere offers an official statement regarding Euro Hawk’s cancellation, in which he defends both the decision to go ahead with the project, and the decision to terminate it. Among his reasons, he cites increased support costs as a result of the US decision to phase out its Global Hawk Block 20/ 30 UAVs, and says that independent national mission planning from outside the USA wouldn’t have been possible until at least 2017. Bundesminiterium [PDF] | Full Minister’s Report [PDF, in German] | Full Ad-Hoc Working Group Report [PDF, in German] | Aviation Week.
May 22-24/13: AGS next? German defense minister Thomas de Maiziere (CDU) is taking fire over the Euro Hawk’s cancellation, including criticism from Bundestag allies like Elke Hoff (FDP) and Norbert Barthle (CDU). The criticism stems from the military’s refusal to answer program information requests from Germany’s Federal Audit Office in November 2011 – even though they had known of the civilian certification requirement since 2008, and were aware of fundamental problems as of summer 2011.
A Northrop Grumman spokesperson told Die Zeit magazine that the delivered Euro Hawk prototype would have been the only example without automatic collision avoidance systems. The logical question follows: if the presence of collision avoidance in Euro Hawk still left it with an uncertain EUR 600 million path to certification, why would NATO’s AGS Global Hawk Block 40s do better? Both Hoff and Barthle are urging that Germany pull out of NATO’s AGS program, too. NATO is offering assurances, and saying that AGS will go ahead. Unfortunately, trust in official assurances to the contrary is understandably thin right now, and Germany’s AGS commitment is large: EUR 400 million. Der Spiegel | Deutsche Welle.
May 14/13: Cancellation. Germany has decided to end the Euro Hawk project, after spending EUR 562 million on system development and test flights. Not only would it cost hundreds of millions more euros to attempt EASA/ICAO flight certification, but German authorities reportedly lacked confidence that they would receive a certification at the end of the process. Rather than pay another EUR 600 – 700 million for additional UAVs and equipment, and an equivalent amount to attempt EASA certification, Germany will attempt to find another path.
That leaves an equipped Euro Hawk SIGINT UAV open for use, and a problem for AGS founding member Germany. UAV hours were supposed to be a big part of their AGS contribution. The RQ-4B Block 20 SIGINT prototype could transfer fully into AGS, alongside the 4 planned RQ-4B Block 40 UAVs at Sigonella Air Base in Italy. Key questions would include who would pay to upgrade the Euro Hawk and ensure full AGS compatibility, and how to deal with the issue of certification. Germany’s alternative would move Euro Hawk’s sensors into a manned and certified aircraft, then pursue a much simpler and cheaper type certificate amendment. Luftwaffe | Agence France Presse | Deutsche Welle | Deutsche Welle interview: Christian Molling | India’s Economic Times.
March – April 2013: Program in danger? Reports in the French and German media highlight the problems Euro Hawk has been having with airspace certification, and say that its cost could end the program entirely. Parliamentary State Secretary of Defense Thomas Kossendey says the program is having problems furnishing the documentation it needs for flight certification in shared airspace, and that those efforts could end up costing EUR 500-600 million on top of the EUR 1.3 billion already spent on development, UAVs, sensors, basing, etc. With the USA pulling back from further Global Hawk purchases in the 2013 & 2014 budgets, Germany is also contemplating issues like future support and maintainability.
Without that certification, Germany can certainly own the Euro Hawks, but how does it fly them where it needs them to go? This is also bad news for General Atomics’ hopes of selling Germany MQ-9 Reaper UAVs, which would face many of the same problems. Shz.de [in German] | TTU [in French].
Jan 11/13: Testing. Northrop Grumman Corporation and EADS Deutschland GmbH hail the 1st full system test flight of the Euro Hawk, complete with advanced signals intelligence (SIGINT) sensors to detect of radar and communication emitters. It happens in closed airspace.
Oct 12/11: The Luftwaffe formally unveils the Euro Hawk as a new platform for the force, which will soon fill the gap created by the retired Breguet Atlantiques.
Eleven German pilots have already received training in the United States, and the Luftwaffe will now begin working with the UAV in order to verify its capabilities and set up usage procedures. The Euro Hawk system as a whole is expected to begin operations in summer 2012. German Bundeswehr [in German] | Der Spiegel.
July 18/11: FAA. The Euro Hawk’s flight to Germany will be delayed by the FAA, apparently over weather-related issues en route from Edwards AFB, CA to Germany. It was supposed to land in Manching on July 19th, but there is now no date for approval of its flight plan. Flight International.
July 8/11: German plans. Aviation Week reports on Germany’s high-end UAV plans, beyond its planned 6 RQ-4 Euro-Hawk surveillance and SIGINT drones. The publication states that Germany is looking to buy 4 UAVs for wide-area surveillance, probably more RQ-4 variants, in order to complement NATO’s 6 RQ-4B Block 40 AGS drones. They’re also looking at fielding 16 systems of MALE drones over the next decade, to replace the current Heron UAV lease, and are even considering unmanned combat aircraft (UCAV).
March 10-11/11: Testing. A Euro Hawk test aircraft is hung up in an anechoic chamber for electromagnetic interference testing, at the Edwards AFB Benefield Anechoic Facility, after a specific request from the German Ministry of Defence.
NGC Euro Hawk System Engineering manager Daniel Suh sums up the issue: “In highly populated areas there are more [electro-magetic] emitters [of all types] so there’s risk associated in flying an unmanned aircraft in those environments.” The BAF testing is designed to duplicate and test those risks. Edwards AFB.
Dec 1-2/10: Testing. A Euro Hawk UAV flies for 30.3 hours from Edwards AFB, CA, soaring up to 60,000 feet. The Euro Hawk has now logged over 100 flight hours.
The Euro Hawk aircraft will undergo additional flight testing in Germany before being delivered to the German Air Force by the end of 2011, and delivery of 4 subsequent systems is anticipated between 2015 and 2016, following successful testing and introduction in German operational service. Northrop Grumman.
June 29/10: Testing. The Euro Hawk successfully completes its 1st flight, taking off from Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, CA, manufacturing facility and landing nearly 2 hours later at Edwards Air Force Base, CA. Northrop Grumman.
Oct 8/09: Rollout. Northrop Grumman and EADS Defence & Security unveil the first Euro Hawk unmanned aircraft system (UAS) in a ceremony at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, CA facility. Northrop Grumman | EADS.
July 31/09: Industrial. Northrop Grumman announces that it has finished assembling Germany’s first Euro Hawk UAV at its facility in Palmdale, CA. The program is currently on track for the formal unveiling in late 2009 at the firm’s Palmdale, CA manufacturing facility.
May 5/09: FAA. Flight International reports that the Euro Hawk program is facing further delays – most of them regulatory. Northrop says it is still discussing the December 2009/January 2010 transfer flight to Edwards AFB with the US Federal Aviation Administration, which involves an unmanned aircraft in civilian airspace. A follow-on transfer flight to southern Germany is expected in mid-2010, but may be delayed if there are further setbacks involving that initial flight, or subsequent acceptance tests at Edwards AFB for the German authorities.
The proposed trans-Atlantic transfer flight will require agreements from the US, UK and German aviation authorities over the next 14 months, as well as a preliminary flight airworthiness certificate. As an added wrinkle, EADS also plans for the Eurohawk’s German ground control station to take over from Northrop once the UAV reaches northern Scotland.
2003 – 2009
From MoU to contract; ELINT sensor test.
Jan 31/07: The German Ministry of Defence (MoD) awards a EUR 430 million (then about $560 million) contract to EADS and Northrop Grumman joint venture Eurohawk GmbH. In return, they’ll develop, test and support the Euro Hawk unmanned SIGINT, surveillance, and reconnaissance system, and deliver 1 UAV. A separate contract will order the other 5 later, if the system meets its objectives. EADS release | Northrop Grumman release.
Euro Hawk development contract
Sept 7/06: Negotiations. Aerospace Daily & Defense Report explains that the Euro Hawk’s delayed contract involves issues within the German government and in the U.S. export control process. The fact that it’s a mix of commercial transactions and Foreign Military Sale transactions adds to that complexity. The report quotes Edward Walby, Northrop Grumman’s head of high-altitude/long-endurance systems:
“The administrative piece of it has been extremely difficult… This isn’t a large profit objective for Northrop Grumman, but it is a big deal to get an export of a system such as a Global Hawk under way. The next one, or the next country will be easier because you’ve gone through all of those little problems already.”
The report says that a contract is expected in October 2006. It would end up being later than that.
May 16/06: MoU. The German Ministry of Defence and the U.S. Department of Defense sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) establishing the base conditions for U.S./German cooperation on the RQ-4 Global Hawk-derivative “Euro Hawk” UAV. The government-to-government MoU is cited by EADS and Northrop Grumman as a critical step towards the Euro Hawk risk-reduction contract, which is expected in autumn of 2006. Northrop Grumman news release
November 2003: ELINT. The Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance UAV completes a series of flight tests in the USA and Germany carrying an EADS electronic intelligence (ELINT) payload. Source.
Most Global Hawk UAVs are configured with SAR radars for finding ground targets, plus electro-optical and infrared sensors (see examples of Global Hawk imagery). An August 2005 DID article noted that in November 2003, the Global Hawk high-altitude, long-endurance UAV completed a series of flight tests in the USA and Germany carrying an EADS electronic intelligence (ELINT) payload. EADS.
- Northrop Grumman – Euro Hawk
- EADS – Euro Hawk
- German BWB Procurement Agency – Wachsames Auge in der Stratosphare [in German]
- ISR Journal (Sept 5/06) – Super-sized Global Hawk revealed. Covers the RQ-4 from Block 10-40, and their planned capabilities.
- DID (Aug 30/05) – [American] Order for 10 Global Hawk UAVs Includes 5 for SIGINT Role.
- DID Subscription – AGS: NATO’s Battlefield Eye in the Sky
- Naval Technology – Atlantique ATL3 – Maritime Patrol Aircraft, France. Includes some details regarding the Atlantique ATL1.
- EADS – Breguet Atlantic SIGINT aircraft.