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Edwards tests production Global Hawk for possible deployment

by Tech. Sgt. Eric M. Grill
95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

9/5/2005 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFPN) -- Global Hawk flight test efforts were completed Aug. 28, bringing the latest version of the aircraft one step closer to warfighter employment.

The tests on the unmanned aerial vehicle, conducted here by the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center's Detachment 5, the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron and the 452nd Flight Test Squadron, were designed to support an upcoming Air Combat Command decision on whether the production Block 10 Global Hawk aircraft and sensor suite are ready for deployment.

Global Hawks provide the Air Force and joint battlefield commanders near real-time, high-resolution intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance imagery.

The plan, said Lt. Col. Andy Thurling, 452nd FLTS operations officer, is to replace the advanced concept technology demonstration Global Hawks that are currently deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

"Each ACTD aircraft is a one-of-a-kind aircraft," he said. "Production Global Hawks are standardized and have technical orders to allow Air Combat Command to operate the aircraft with their blue-suit maintainers."

Currently, the maintainers deployed are mostly contractors.

"Because of the individuality of each ACTD aircraft, they require heavy contractor involvement, but the production aircraft can be deployed with mostly [Airmen maintaining it, rather than] the heavy contractor footprint," said David Morrow, deputy project manager for the Global Hawk program.

The production Global Hawk encompasses some aspects of the advanced concept technology.

"The Air Force desired to deploy a mixture of fielded ACTD components with the latest production aircraft and sensor suite because of the supportability issues with the currently fielded ACTD system," said Lt. Col. Kenneth Bock, Det. 5 deputy commander here. "Our role is to assess that configuration and provide information to Air Combat Command leadership to support a decision whether to deploy those specific parts of the production Global Hawk system."

The aircraft are maintained here, but the operators for the three AFOTEC-led tests held Aug. 22, Aug. 24 and ending Aug. 28, were located at Beale Air Force Base, Calif.

"Mission control was handed off to controllers at Beale ... which facilitated the image exploitation by image analysts," Mr. Morrow said. "This is the same way it is done when the Global Hawk is deployed. The weapon system doesn't end with the aircraft; it ends with the dissemination of the imagery taken to the warfighter."

The tests fulfill the requirements for a series of combined developmental test and operational test integrated systems evaluation flights to demonstrate Global Hawk system performance, Mr. Morrow said. The capabilities evaluated were flying operations, electro-optical, infrared and synthetic aperture radar sensor functionality, and quality, timeliness and usefulness of sensor images.

"Operationally representative sorties were flown to emulate, as closely as possible, the types of sorties to be flown in a combat environment," Colonel Thurling said. "Two of the three sorties lasted more than 28 hours, while the final sortie on (Aug. 28) lasted more than 13 and a half hours."

Besides the local Edwards airspace, ranges at the Nellis Test and Training Range, Nev.; Utah Test and Training Range, Utah; Yuma, Ariz.; and Point Mugu, Calif.; were also used.

"I am confident that all test objectives were met," Colonel Bock said. "That is to say we were able to test all the parts of the system we planned to test, not to pass judgment on the results yet.

"It will be a number of weeks before our report is briefed out," he said. "The decision whether to deploy will come shortly after that."

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