RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs
Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV has established a dominant position in the High Altitude/ Long Endurance UAV market. While they are not cheap, they are uniquely capable. During Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the system flew only 5% of the US Air Force’s high altitude reconnaissance sorties, but accounted for more than 55% of the time-sensitive targeting imagery generated to support strike missions. The RQ-4 Global Hawk was also a leading contender in the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV competition, and eventually won.
The Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration Program (GHM-D or BAMS-D) aims to use the proven RQ-4 Global Hawk airframe as a test bed for operational concepts and technologies that will eventually find their way into BAMS, and contribute valuable understanding to the new field of maritime surveillance with high-flying UAVs. It’s not just a test program, however, as its remaining drones also deploy to assist the fleet in active operations.
Contracts and Key Events
All contracts are managed by The Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD. The US military lists Northrop Grumman Corp. Integrated Systems, Western Region in San Diego, CA as the contractor, which is technically true. While that was the original contract, NGC Integrated Systems was combined with NGC Space Technology to form Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in January, 2009.
FY 2015 – 2017
Increasing ops tempo.
October 23/17: The Republic of Korea Air Force is planning to set up a new airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) unit in December, specifically tasked with analysing the data collected from its new RQ-4 Global Hawk assets. A total of four Global Hawks are on order, with the first batch of two scheduled to arrive next year followed by the final two in 2019. The new unit will work alongside Seoul’s existing ISR battalion which includes a fleet of four Boeing 737-700 Peace Eye airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) system aircraft.
October 10/17: Northrop Grumman has been awarded a $130 million USAF contract to support Japan’s Global Hawk program. The order calls for the sourcing of long lead material to initiate the program for three RQ-4 Global Hawk block 30 (I) UAVs, in addition to two ground control elements, enhanced integrated sensor suite, spares, and a site survey. Work will be performed in San Diego, California, and is expected to be complete by July 27, 2018. In November 2015, Japan was cleared by the US State Department for the $1.2 billion sale of Global Hawk aircraft. Between May and October this year, the USAF had five RQ-4 Global Hawks stationed at Yokota Air Base in Japan to provide a base from which the platform can be reliably operated during the summer. Tensions in the region have been high amid North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear testing, which has seen test rockets fly over Japanese airspace.
August 29/17: Northrop Grumman said it will upgrade its RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV to meet the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) requirement for a high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAV, equipped with a high-energy laser that could destroy an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the boost phase. While the MDA’s HALE program requires a minimum altitude of 63,000ft and a payload capacity between 5,000-12,500lb (2,270-5,670kg), the RQ-4 currently can reach 60,000ft and can carry a 3,000lb payload, according to US Air Force specifications. Northrop officials acknowledge the 3,000lb limit but have also said the current configuration could reach a maximum payload of 4,000lb. The company is also looking to reduce the weight of the aircraft by removing some heavy equipment that has remained on the platform since its development in the late 1990s, rather than looking to redesign it.
August 9/17: Raytheon has been awarded a $25.9 million US Air Force contract for modifications and retrofitting of sensors on the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 UAV. Under the terms of the deal, work to be provided by the firm includes engineering for upgrades to the Enhanced Integrated Sensor Suite and retrofitting of the Enhanced Electro-Optical Receiving Unit on Global Hawks. The work will be performed in El Segundo, Calif., with an expected completion date of Feb. 4, 2019.
April 13/17: UTC Aerospace Systems’ MS-177 sensor has been successfully tested by Northrop Grumman onboard an RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV. The sensor is a high-resolution imaging device designed to improve capabilities for the Global Hawk in addition to several other surveillance platforms operated by the USAF, with UTC adding that the sensor will provide warfighters with the most advanced reconnaissance tools to date. Demonstrations with the sensor began in early March and Northrop will continue through the first half of 2017. Prior to being integrated on such a high altitude platform, the MS-177 has been equipped on the E-8C JSTARS aircraft.
March 8/17: Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4B Global Hawk UAV has commenced flight testing with the UTC Aerospace Systems MS-177 long-range multispectral sensor. The February 8 maiden flight with the MS-177 is the initial step in a six-month integration, test and qualification phase that will mostly take place at Edwards AFB, close to Northrop’s facility in Palmdale, California, where the aircraft is built. Northrop’s RQ-4 is the second UAV to demonstrate compatibility with the sensor after General Atomics’ “Predator C” Avenger, which performed a series of flight tests in January and February 2016. Integration with the MS-177 will enable the Global Hawk to establish compliance with the USAF’s new Open Mission System standards, which allow different sensors and payloads to be rapidly installed and qualified.
August 30/16: RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs operated by the USAF are to get an upgraded control system following a $104 million contract awarded to Raytheon. Under the deal, new payload controls for UAV will be incorporated, and the GCSs will be moved from temporary building to permanent structures at Beale AFB in California and Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota. Raytheon added that a new open architecture will be introduced, which will introduce scalability and the operation of new payloads and platforms, following which the old system will be gradually phased out.
July 22/16: It’s been reported that restrictions placed on Japan’s RQ-4 by the US is limiting Tokyo’s capabilities. Ideally, Japan wanted the RQ-4 to provide round-the-clock surveillance against neighboring North Korea and China. Now the Defense Ministry has discovered that the drone can only loiter for at most three times a week. Washington is only willing to supply optical sensors for Japanese Global Hawks, AIS tracking of ships and electronic emissions gathering sensors will not be provided at the outset. As a result, Japan may look to Israeli industry to supplement its UAV requirements with the IAI Heron.
May 25/16: Weapons testers upgrading the Northrop Grumman RQ-4B Global Hawk have commenced laser-printing simulated ice for ice-shape testing on the UAV. Using a process known as “selective laser sintering,” it is possible to characterize ice buildup on the aircrafts wings and V-tail, a common problem found on most aircraft. The testing will now allow operators to know the airframe’s exact tolerance to buildup when carrying different fuel loads. In use since the late 1990s, the USAF is looking to extend the UAV’s lifetime through to 2034 instead of early retirement.
November 23/15: Japan is to receive three RQ-4 Block 30 (I) UAVs after the sale was cleared by the US State Department on Friday. The deal will also include associated parts, equipment and training costing $1.2 billion in total. The purchase comes at a time when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been beefing up his country’s defense spending to counter Chinese influence. It was announced earlier this year that Japan is planning its largest ever defence budget which, if approved, will be in the region of $41 billion.
November 18/15: Northrop Grumman have selected Swiss company Garmin’s GSX70 weather radar as part of a contract to modernize and retrofit the USAF RQ-4 Global Hawk fleet. The GSX70 was selected for its ability to better recognise weather threats and allow for better decision making as well as its easy integration capabilities with the RQ-4. The installation of the the radar is said to begin in the first quarter of 2016 with Northrop’s contract running until 2020.
October 2/15: Northrop Grumman has been handed a $3.2 billion IDIQ contract to develop, retrofit, modernize and sustain the Air Force’s RQ-4 Global Hawk fleet, with the contract running to 2020. Cost estimates for Global Hawk modernization efforts out to 2020 – originally slated as $4 billion in May – were subsequently revised down to approximately half of that earlier this month.
September 16/15: Cost estimates for upgrades to the RQ-4 Global Hawk could be half of the $4 billion previously slated, according to an Air Force official. The requirement for a new Electro-Optical system and wide-angle camera could reduce the figure down; however, this appears to be achieved through the cutting of non-essential upgrades, including a sense and avoid sensor, which were included in the original figure. With the Air Force arguing to retain only one of its two current high-altitude ISR aircraft (the other being the Cold War-era U-2), the reduced cost estimate could bring the Global Hawk into direct competition with a set of upgrades proposed by Lockheed Martin for the U-2, known as the TR-X.
May 15/15: The Pentagon is set to award $4 billion in contracts for modernization of the RQ-4 Global Hawk over the next five years, with the program funded to 2020. The program recently achieved milestone C, a key requirement for the platform to progress with modernization efforts.
May 6/15: The RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle has been given milestone C approval from the Defense Acquisition Executive. The Global Hawk demonstrated interoperability and software maturity prior to milestone C, with the program fully funded throughout the Future Years Defense Program.
Feb 4/15: Northrop Grumman starts production on four units to go to South Korea. In late 2014 the Republic of Korea awarded Northrop Grumman a contract for four RQ-4s, including two ground stations and various support equipment. This is the first Pacific sale for the Global Hawk under the Foreign Military Sales process. RQ-4s are already being procured by Australia and Japan.
FY 2013 – 2014
Increasing ops tempo.
June 13/14: FY 2014. Northrop Grumman System Corp. in San Diego, CA receives a $61.3 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for BAMS-D operations and maintenance services: logistics support; field service representatives; and organization, intermediate, and depot-level maintenance. That’s a significant increase, compared to past years, but the Navy has been clear about their intent to raise operational tempo (q.v. Sept 6/13).
All funds are committed immediately, using US Navy FY 2014 O&M budgets. Work will be performed in Patuxent River, MD (70%); outside continental United States (25%); and Rancho Bernardo, CA (5%), and is expected to be complete in June 2015. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-12-C-0117).
Jan 23/14: The BAMS-D fleet hits 10,000 flying hours supporting missions in the Middle East. It has been helpful during movements of carrier and amphibious groups, and has reached its goal of 15 missions per month (q.v. Sept 6/13). Sources: NGC, “Northrop Grumman-Built Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator Unmanned Aircraft Surpasses 10,000 Combat Flying Hours”.
Sept 6/13: More missions. A maximum $10 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for additional BAMS-D/ GHMD operations and maintenance services. The goal is to increase BAMS-D operational tempo from the current 9 maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions per month to a sustained level of 15 missions per month. That will require more people to handle maintenance and operations, rather than more UAVs. $3 million is committed immediately.
Work will be performed in Patuxent River, MD (70%), and outside continental United States (30%), and is expected to be complete in May 2014 (N00019-12-C-0117).
Aug 21/13: FY 2013. A $27.6 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification, exercising an option for this year’s BAMS-D operations and maintenance services. All funds are committed immediately, and expire at the end of the fiscal year on Sept 30/13.
Work will be performed in Patuxent River, MD (70%), and outside the continental United States (30%), and is expected to be complete in May 2014 (N00019-12-C-0117).
Dec 18/12: Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Bethpage, NY receives a $7.2 million cost-plus-award-fee contract modification to support new Airborne Recorder certification requirements for BAMS-D. The change was forced by an NSA Information Assurance Security and Requirements Directive.
Work will be performed in Anaheim, CA (75%); Bethpage, NY (20%); and San Diego, CA (5%), and is expected to be complete in December 2013. Funding will be committed as needed (N00019-08-C-0023).
FY 2011 – 2012
Aug 29/12: FY 2012. Northrop Grumman in San Diego, CA receives a $40.1 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for continued operations and maintenance services in support of the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance – Demonstrator Unmanned Aircraft System, also known as the Global Hawk Maritime – Demonstrator.
Work will be performed in Patuxent River, MD (70%) and outside the continental US (30%), and will run until August 2013. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N00019-12-C-0117).
June 11/12: Crash. An RQ-4A BAMS-D Global Hawk crashes into a marshy tributary of Maryland’s Nanticoke River, during a routine training flight from Naval Air Station Patuxent River. There were no injuries to civilians and no property damage, but the crash site has been blocked to recreational boat traffic while the agency investigates.
Aug 23/11: FY 2011. A $35.6 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification, exercise an option for another year of operations and maintenance services in support of the U.S. Navy Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration.
Work will be performed in Patuxent River, MD (75%), and outside the United States (25%), and is expected to be complete in September 2012. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11 (N00019-10-C-0018).
FY 2009 – 2010
Deployments. MP-RTIP radar.
July 23/10: FY 2010. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Sector in San Diego, CA receives a $29.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to provide operations and maintenance services for the U.S. Navy’s Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration.
Work will be performed outside the U.S. (50%); and in Patuxent River, MD (30%); and San Diego, CA (20%), and is expected to be complete in August 2010. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/10. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1.
July 15/10: A $5.5 million contract modification for software development to test maritime surveillance and maritime imaging modes for the MP-RTIP radar. At this time, all funds have been committed by the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, MA (F-19628-00-C-0100; P00209).
The Northrop Grumman/Raytheon MP-RTIP is a 1.5 x 4 foot active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar designed to provide better resolution than current ground-viewing systems. It will equip new Global Hawk Block 40s, but at the moment, it’s experiencing software challenges with “concurrent” mode, where the radar tracks moving targets (GTMI) while maintaining a high-resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) mapping scan. See also Aviation Week.
Oct 1/09: Deployment. One of the U.S. Navy’s 2 RQ-4 GHMD/ BAMS-D UAVs returns from service with Task Force 57, which operates in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman and North Arabian Sea. The UAV conducted operational “field tests” that included over 60 flights over land and sea areas, and over 1,000 hours in the air, providing images to Task Force 57 in near real-time. The BAMS-D UAV was operated by navy personnel back in the United States at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, MD.
A team from Commander Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 2, Commander Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 5, NAVAIR, and Northrop Grumman Corporation conducted the deployment. A forward-deployed contingent of Northrop Grumman personnel, under oversight of Patrol Wings 2 and 5, provided maintenance for the aircraft, while working closely with counterparts on the USAF’s Global Hawk maintenance team.
The Navy’s 2nd BAMS-D UAV has now been sent overseas to continue field testing, while the returning aircraft returning aircraft undergoes depot-level maintenance and conducts other tests closer to home. US Navy NAVAIR, Oct 20/09 | StrategyPage.
Aug 17/09: Inside the Navy reports that the US Navy plans to use the GHMD in support of anti-piracy operations near Somalia, but satellite communication and control issues will need to be resolved first.
July 15/09: FY 2009. A $26.6 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-05-C-0057) for additional operations and maintenance support for the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD) Program.
Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete in August 2010. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/09.
April 23/09: FY 2009. An $8.7 million modification to a previously awarded cost plus fixed fee contract (N00019-05-C-0057) to provide additional operations and maintenance support for the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD).
Work will be performed in Patuxent River, MD (90%) and San Diego, CA (10%), and is expected to be complete in November 2009. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.
March 24/09: Deployment. The Navy’s 1st unmanned Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator “Global Hawk” Unmanned Aerial Vehicle lands in the 5th Fleet’s Area of Responsibility, completing its 17th successful operational mission. The UAV was flown by Commander, Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing FIVE and other P-3 aviators via a satellite link from a mission control station located at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, MD. Source [PDF].
Feb 4/09: Deployment. Reports indicate that one of the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration UAVs has deployed to CENTCOM’s theater of operations by the US Navy. Information Dissemination believes that its future will include pirate tracking off of Africa’s eastern coast. GHMD is a limited program that is both a predecessor to BAMS, and a way to experiment and learn how an advanced maritime patrol UAV can be used in real world operations (CONOPS).
Dec 23/08: Recognition. Northrop Grumman announces that US Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX-20) gave the RQ-4 Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD) team its Q2 2008 Test Team of the Quarter award. To date, the 2 GHMD demonstrator aircraft have flown more than 1,350 hours.
The team’s accomplishments included performing more than 1,000 hours of flight operations over an 18-month period, troubleshooting issues with the communications system, integrating the automatic identification system into the aircraft so it can be used in civilian air space, conducting tests with the ocean surveillance initiative, and developing tactics and guidelines for unmanned patrol systems. From January to June 2008, the team also supported various operational activities, including the Southeastern Anti-Submarine Warfare Initiative 08-2, the USS Iwo Jima Group Sail, and the Commander Carrier Strike Group 8. The team’s successes during this period culminated with the Trident Warrior exercise in June 2008, when the team flew more than 113 hours over a 5-week period, including an unplanned 23-hour humanitarian mission in which a GHMD was re-tasked to assist in the Northern California wildfires. July saw the UAVs participate in the Rim of the Pacific 2008 fleet exercise, which saw the team finish 4 missions totaling more than 92 hours.
Nov 10/08: Training. The USAF discusses some of the logistics involved. A cadre of USAF RQ-4 pilots from the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale AFB, CA are teaching a class of 3 active-duty P-3 Orion pilots and one civilian contractor how to fly the Global Hawk. Navy officials are looking to the Air Force to assist in expediting their pending RQ-4 Global Hawk deployment, one reason the normally 5-month course is being condensed to 4.
FY 2003 – 2008
GHM-D EMD . BAMS victory.
Sept 18/08: FY 2008. A $12.6 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus fixed fee contract (N00019-05-C-0057) for operations and maintenance support for the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD), including operation and sustainment, logistics support and sustaining engineering throughout the demonstration.
Work will be performed in Patuxent River, MD (90%) and San Diego, CA (10%), and is expected to be complete in September 2009. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.
April 22/08: BAMS. Northrop Grumman Corp. Integrated Systems in Bethpage, NY wins a cost-plus-award-fee contract with an estimated value of $1.16 billion for the BAMS System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase, which will create the MQ-4N Triton UAV companion to the P-8A Poseidon. The award later prevails over protests from the losing coalition of Lockheed Martin and General Atomics.
See DID’s BAMS FOCUS article for more.
RQ-4 wins BAMS
Dec 19/07: FY 2008. A $12.1 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-05-C-0057) for operations and maintenance support for the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD), including operation and sustainment, logistics support and sustaining engineering throughout the demonstration.
Work will be performed in Patuxent River, MD (90%) and San Diego, CA (10%), and is expected to be complete in December 2008. Contract funds in the amount of $4.6 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.
April 30/07: FY 2007. A $7.7 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-05-C-0057) for operations and maintenance support for the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD), including operation and sustainment, logistics support and sustaining engineering throughout the demonstration.
Work will be performed in Patuxent River, MD (90%) and San Diego, CA (10%), and is expected to be complete in December 2007. Contract funds in the amount of $4.1 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.
Nov 30/05: FY 2006. $10.5 million ceiling-priced modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00019-05-C-0057). It exercises an option for operations and maintenance support of the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD), including operation and sustainment, logistics support and sustaining engineering throughout the demonstration. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (79%) and Patuxent River, MD (21%), and is expected to be complete in November 2006.
Sept 20/05: Support. $27.1 million not-to-exceed delivery order against a previously issued basic ordering agreement (N00019-05-G-0009) for the procurement of initial spares in support of the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration Program. Work on this contract will be performed in San Diego, CA (46%); El Segundo, CA (28%); Salt Lake City, UT (19%); Indianapolis, IN (4%); and Falls Church, VA (3%); and is expected to be complete in September 2007.
Oct 6/05: 1st flight. The first RQ-4A Global Hawk UAV slated for the Navy’s GHMD program made its first flight from Palmdale, CA, to Edward’s Air Force Base, CA. US Navy.
May 2/03: R&D. Raytheon Co. in Falls Church, VA receives a $5 million not-to-exceed order against a previously awarded basic ordering agreement N00019-02-G-0350 for requirements development and initial design of the Block 3 Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD) data control processor, data link controls and payload processing. The contract also includes preparation of an engineering plan to integrate this system into existing ships. The TCS will provide a single unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) mission planning, command and control, data processing and dissemination system for operation of a whole range of UAV types. Work will be performed in Falls Church, VA (80%), and Rancho Bernardo, CA (20%), and is expected to be complete in December 2003.
Feb 5/03: EMD. $185.2 million cost-plus-award-fee using an undefinitized-contract-action contract modification. Provides for engineering and manufacturing development activities in support of the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration.
Further funds will be obligated as individual delivery orders are issued, and work will be complete by September 2006 (F33657-01-C-4600, P00020).
GHM-D EMD contract
- Northrop Grumman – Global Hawk Logistics Services.
- DII FOCUS – Kicking it Up a Notch: Poseidon’s Unmanned BAMS Companion.
- DII FOCUS – P-8 Poseidon MMA: Long-Range Maritime Patrol, and More. A Boeing 737 derivative.
- DID – UAV Data Management.
- DID (Aug 24/05) – Follow-Up: Rear Adm. Michael L. Holmes on The USA’s P-3C Force. Indicated that a significant portion of the P-3 Orion and EP-3 Aries’ roles would fall to the BAMS UAV.
- DID (June 13/05) – $230.5M in Contracts to Keep P-3 Fleet Flying. Stopgap replacements could be required sooner, rather than later.