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RQ-4A Global Hawk (Tier II+ HAE UAV)


Initially, as part of the evelopment phase, scheduled to conclude first quarter FY98, two vehicles, two sets of payloads, and a ground control station would be procured and field tested. Global Hawk's first flight was from Edwards Air Force Base, California on 28 February 1998. In FY99, Global Hawk flying quality flights were flown, and military utility flights were to commence in April. In March, 1999, a Global Hawk vehicle, with its sensors, went out of control and was destroyed. This crash delayed the Global Hawk military utility study by at least two months.

On 16 February 2000 Northrop Grumman Corp. of San Diego, California was awarded a $71,999,635 modification to a cost-plus-award-fee contract, MDA972-95-3-0013, to provide for two prototype Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles, associated system modification, and engineering support. Expected contract completion date was 31 March 2002.

As of March 2002 the Air Force inventory consisted of three Global Hawk Air Vehicles. Of the six that had been built, three had been lost in mishaps.

  • The first was lost 29 March 1999 when operators at Nellis Test Range, NV, inadvertently sent a self-terminate signal while Global Hawk was aloft and under the control of officials at Edwards AFB, California. The UAV received the line-of-sight signal from Nellis, and crashed in accordance with the signal's instructions.
  • The second was lost in December 1999, when an official incorrectly programmed the UAV to taxi at 155 nautical miles per hour.
  • The probable cause of the 30 December 2001 crash of Air Vehicle 5, the third Global Hawk loss, was a failure of the rudder actuator, which became loose while conducting a mission. Operators directed the UAV to return to base, though during the return the rudder began flapping excessively, causing a catastrophic failure. Air vehicle 5 was the program's newest Global Hawk, and it had logged about 940 flight hours prior to the crash.

The next full Global Hawk reconnaissance mission took place 11 March 2002, using Global Hawk Air Vehicle 3, which was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Northrop Grumman completed the sixth UAV in early 2002. The contractor had expected to fly it from the company's Palmdale, California, plant to Edwards AFB for testing, but Air Vehicle 3 required parts for the aircraft supporting Enduring Freedom stationed abroad, and they were removed from Air Vehicle 6 to keep Global Hawks functioning in the theater.

A demonstrator version saw combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. The demonstrator flew just 3 percent of the imagery intelligence missions over Iraq, but located 55 percent of the time-sensitive targets generated to destroy air defense equipment. It also identified almost 40 percent of Iraq's armor, and the Combined Air Operations Center attributed the accelerated defeat of the Republican Guard to Global Hawk.

Air Vehicle 5, which crashed on 30 December 2001, carried the only existing EO/IR payload for the Global Hawk. Raytheon planned to have at least one additional EO/IR payload ready for the new Air Vehicle 6 early in 2002. Air Vehicle 6 was scheduled for delivery late in 2002, and Air Vehicles 7 and 8 were to follow in 2003. As of early 2002 plans were under way to accelerate production to 2 aircraft in 2004, 4 in 2005 and 6 in 2006.

By 2003 Global Hawk was the most expensive UAV available. As of mid-2002 the estimated unit costs had tripled over the original estimate of $15 million apiece. The aircraft cost about $48 million with a full sensor suite, or about $70 million each if development costs were included. By contrast, the smaller Predator cost about $4.5 million.

The seventh Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle touched down at Edwards Air Force Base on 14 February 2003 after its flight from Air Force Plant 42 in nearby Palmdale, California, where it was built by lead government contractor Northrop Grumman. This latest Global Hawk was the program's final advanced concept technology platform and was slated for use as a test vehicle to support development and upgrade efforts.

The aircraft incorporated all of the improvements made to the Global Hawk to date in support of its current acquisition strategy, known as spiral development. The strategy was expected to deliver initial Global Hawk capabilities sooner than more conventional acquisition methods. Many of the improvements made to the reconnaissance aircraft stemmed from its early operational debut in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Key to these improvements was the new integrated mission management computer system, which controled all of the flying and navigation operations of the aircraft. After minor modifications, the test force was slated to begin a full-scale developmental test program, which included an evaluation of the new computer system.

The first production RQ-4A Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle rolled out in ceremonies held 1 August 2003 at prime contractor Northrop Grumman's Antelope Valley Manufacturing Center at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California. Drawing back a large curtain, program officials unveiled Global Hawk in its operational gray and white colors as Air Force dignitaries and contractor employees cheered and applauded the milestone.

The US Navy has also been a user of the Global Hawk system. The first RQ-4A Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) slated for the Navy's Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD) program made its first flight from Palmdale, California, to Edward's Air Force Base on 6 October 2004. The mission lasted for approximately four hours and exercised the airframe, guidance system and powerplant. This was the first of two RQ-4A aircraft the Navy acquired as part of the GHMD program. The GHMD program was intended to develop maritime UAV tactics and operating procedures. Lessons learned from GHMD will be applied to future naval UAV systems, including the BAMS program. The Global Hawk system was expected to provide the Navy with an enduring testbed to evaluate new technologies, to support fleet experiments and exercises, and to provide a contingency operational capability to support deployed Navy and Marine Corps forces. The Navy Global Hawks were designed with features specifically tailored to maritime missions, including new radar modes for detecting and identifying ships at sea, as well as passive sensors capable of picking up hostile radars. The ground stations are also modified, adding displays and controls needed to allow operators to analyze sensor information in real time and without external assistance.

The GHMD system was to be operated and maintained at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, with the first delivery scheduled for the summer of 2005. Although based at Patuxent River, the system would be moved/deployed to other locations to support exercises or deployed contingency operations.

The Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) program investigated the Global Hawk as part of development for a new capability which would give shipboard control of both flight and payload via TCS. The aircraft would be based at Jacksonville, Florida, and four other locations. The data link for BAMS was expected to be TCDL (but is not planned to be compliant with Rev F of the CDL waveform specification and would not be network capable).

As of 2004 the Air Force planned a production run of approximately 51 Global Hawks. Production of the RQ-4A, the official designation for the Global Hawk demonstrators, was stated as completed as of March 2007. The RQ-4B was then in production with key technologies mostly mature. Representative prototypes of the two sensors driving the requirement for the larger aircraft were in flight test. Airframe design was stable, but differences between the two models were much more extensive and complex than anticipated. These differences and ongoing support of military operations resulted in extended development times, frequent engineering changes, and significant cost increases. Statistical process controls were being implemented for some manufacturing processes, but delayed testing constrain efforts to mature processes. Dates for integrating and testing new technologies and for achieving initial operational capability had been delayed about 2 years. DOD was rebaselining the program with a substantial increase in cost.

As noted, the contractor completed RQ-4A production. As of March 2007, four aircraft had been officially accepted into the operational inventory and three more would be delivered by the end of 2007. Completing the RQ-4A operational assessment had been delayed about 2 1/2 years and performance problems were identified in communications, imagery processing, and engines. Officials reported that the deficiencies had been addressed and the assessment would be completed by April 2007.

The first RQ-4B aircraft completed production in August 2006 and was expected to start develomental flight testing soon thereafter. Another 11 were on order through the FY06 buy. Statistical process controls were being implemented for some manufacturing processes. Officials identified critical processes and started to collect data for demonstrating capability to meet cost, schedule, and quality targets. Other performance indicators such as defects and rework rates were also used to monitor quality.

In a March 2007 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, it was suggested that continuing delays in flight and operational tests could affect efforts to mature production processes. Performance and flight issues identified during tests could result in design changes, revised production processes, and rework. Completing operational tests to verify the basic RQ-4B design works as intended had been delayed more than 2 years to February 2009. By that time, the Air Force planned to have bought about one-half the entire fleet. Schedules for integrating, testing, and fielding the new advanced sensors had also been delayed, raising risks that these capabilities may not meet the warfighter's performance and time requirements.

In the same GAO report it was noted that there had been previous reports about the significant cost, schedule, and performance problems for the Global Hawk program. Soon after its March 2001 start, DoD restructured the program from a low-risk incremental approach to a high-risk, highly concurrent strategy to develop and acquire the larger RQ-4B aircraft with advanced, but immature, technologies on a much accelerated production schedule. Since then, the development time had been extended another 3 years with a substantial contract cost overrun, production costs had increased, and software and component parts deliveries had slipped as have the schedules for many critical milestones and testing dates. The Air Force reported breaches of Nunn-McCurdy unit cost thresholds (10 U.S.C. 2433) and DoD had to certify the need for the program to Congress and establish improved cost controls. Due to the unit cost and schedule breaches, the Global Hawk program was being rebaselined for the fourth time since the March 2001 start. The revised average unit procurement cost estimate was 56.5 percent higher than the 2002 approved baseline.

The USAF responded to the GAO's report by stating that the Global Hawk program was stronger at that time then it had been in 2006. Technology, design, and production had progressed at the same time management, technical and risk management processes have improved. RQ-4A systems entered Global War on Terror operations providing warfighters with over 83,500 intelligence images, while other aircraft were also being deployed to the user. The basic RQ-4B aircraft had completed development, entered production, and started testing. The advanced payload developers moved into early component testing, which was an important risk reduction milestone for integration. The program continued to focus on military operations and conducting comprehensive testing as that capability moved into production and deployment. Program challenges as of March 2007 included software production, advanced sensors payload integration, and sustainment normalization.

As of March 2008, RQ-4A production was complete and RQ-4B aircraft were in production. Key technologies were mostly mature according to the GAO. The program was collecting manufacturing process control data and bringing them into control, but test delays constrained these efforts. The first RQ-4B had its first flight in March 2007 but encountered problems. Flight testing was ongoing but proceeding slowly. Representative prototypes of the two sensors driving the requirement for the larger aircraft were in flight test on surrogate platforms. However, critical imaging sensors were not yet fully mature. Airframe design appeared stable, but differences between the two models were much more extensive and complex than anticipated. These differences resulted in extended development times, frequent engineering changes, and significant cost increases. The program was rebaselined for the third time since its 2001 inception.

Performance and flight issues identified during tests could result in design changes, revised production processes, and rework. Operational tests to verify that the basic RQ-4B design worked as intended were planned to be completed in February 2009, a delay of more than 2 years. By that time the Air Force expected to have bought about one-half of the total quantities. Schedules for integrating, testing, and fielding the new advanced sensors had delays, raising risks that these capabilities might not meet the warfigther's requirements.

An operational assessment was completed in March 2007 on the RQ-4A, over 2 years later than originally estimated. Performance problems were identified in communications, imagery processing, and engines. These issues had not been completely resolved as of March 2008.

Prior to their March 2008 report, the GAO had reported significant cost, schedule, and performance problems for the Global Hawk program. Soon after its March 2001 start, DOD restructured the program from a low-risk incremental approach to a high-risk, highly concurrent strategy. Specifically, the restructuring aimed to develop and acquire the larger RQ-4B aircraft with advanced but immature technologies on an accelerated production schedule. The program was rebaselined three times, and aircraft unit costs more than doubled as of March 2008, since program start. Significant cost increases between 2002 and 2005 culminated in a Nunn-McCurdy unit cost breach of the critical cost growth threshold, which led to certification to Congress. The program still faced risks, as the most advanced aircraft variant would not be fully tested until mid-FY10. By this point, the program planned to have purchased over 60 percent of the total aircraft quantity. Also, software and subcontractor management continued to be risk areas for the program according to the GAO.

The Air Force responded to the GAO's 2008 assessment by stating that the Global Hawk program had made progress in the last year and continued to execute what it called a challenging acquisition program. Three deployed RQ-4A aircraft supported military operations, amassing 5,700 combat hours in 2007. Two advanced technology sensors, which were once a technology maturity concern, were being successfully tested on surrogate aircraft: a risk management initiative. The RQ-4B aircraft entered a rigorous development test phase. The methodical collection of test data paced this testing, not the test schedule. Integration of the two advanced technology sensors into the RQ-4B aircraft was beginning or in planning. Current program challenges included: software production, RQ-4B (Block 20) testing, and normalization of sustainment and operations.

The first of NATO's five unmanned air vehicles rolled off the factory line in San Diego on Thursday, 4 June 2015. The Global Hawk Block 40 is part of the Alliance Ground Surveillance Program (AGS). The NATO-owned and -operated AGS core capability will enable the Alliance to perform persistent surveillance over wide areas from high-altitude long-endurance aircraft in any weather or light condition. The system gives commanders a comprehensive picture of the situation on the ground.

The AGS system is being acquired by 15 Allies (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States). AGS is scheduled to reach initial operational capability by the end of 2017. The air vehicles will be controlled from the main operating centre in Sigonella, Italy.

On 25 November 2020 Northrop Grumman Systems Corp., San Diego, California, was awarded a $4,800,000,000 indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for Global Hawk development, modernization, retrofit and sustainment activities for all Air Force Global Hawk variants. This contract provides for management, including program, business and technical areas; engineering efforts, including configuration management, data management, reliability, availability and maintainability, and related areas of concern such as technical refresh, diminishing manufacturing sources, etc.; studies and analyses; design, development, integration, test and evaluation; contract/production line closeout/shutdown; training; sparing; overseas contingency operations support; fielding; cyber security/information assurance; interoperability support; facilities modifications/renovation; integrated logistics support; requirements management specification management; and quality assurance.

Additional, and more specific, guidance will be included within each individual delivery order/task order statement of work and performance work statement regarding these and other tasks. This contract provides flexibility to accommodate the broad enterprise of activities associated with the Global Hawk program. Work will be performed in San Diego, California, and is expected to be completed Sept. 30, 2030. This award is the result of a sole-source acquisition. Multiple fiscal years and types of funds will be used for this contract. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the primary contracting activity (FA8690-21-D-1009).

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Page last modified: 15-06-2021 16:09:48 ZULU