The U.S. Air Force’s desire to expand Global Hawk’s role supporting the service’s ISR mission launched the development of a more capable and powerful unmanned surveillance system. The first production version of the next-generation Global Hawk, dubbed the Block 20, was unveiled in August 2006 during a ceremony at the company’s Antelope Valley Manufacturing Center in Palmdale.
In March 2007, the first Block 20 Global Hawk, designated AF-8, successfully completed its first flight from the company’s Palmdale facility to the Birk Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The first Block 20 is the 17th Global Hawk air vehicle to be built. Northrop Grumman produced the first seven air vehicles under the advanced concept technology demonstration phase of the program. Nine Block 10 aircraft have been produced, including the two aircraft supporting the war on terrorism and the two U.S. Navy aircraft operated under the Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration program.
Global Hawk is the only unmanned aerial system (UAS) to meet the military and the Federal Administration Aviation’s airworthiness standards and have approval to fly regular flights within U.S. airspace. The system is continuing its operational support having logged more than 10,000 combat flight hours with 95 percent mission effectiveness.
Global Hawk is part of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing based at its main operating base, Beale Air Force Base, Calif. In addition, the systems flight test program is conducted at the Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The program is managed by the 303rd Aeronautical Systems Group, Aeronautical Systems Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
The Block 20 Global Hawk represents a significant increase in capability over the Block 10 configuration. The larger Block 20 aircraft will carry up to 3,000 pounds of internal payload and will operate with two-and-a-half times the power of its predecessor. Its open system architecture, a so-called “plug-and-play” environment, will accommodate new sensors and communication systems as they are developed to help military customers quickly evaluate and adopt new technologies.
When fully fueled for flight, the Block 20 variant weighs approximately 32,250 pounds. More than half the system’s components are constructed of lightweight, high-strength composite materials, including its wings, wing fairings, empennage, engine cover, engine intake, and three radomes. Its main fuselage is standard aluminum, semi-monocoque construction.
In October 2003, the Air Force demonstrated Global Hawk’s capabilities to the German Ministry of Defence (MoD) in northern Germany. Following a ferry flight from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to Nordholz, Germany, a Block 10 Global Hawk equipped with an EADS electronic intelligence (ELINT) sensor prototype performed a series of flight demonstrations over a six-week deployment.
In January 2007, the German MoD awarded a $559 million contract to EuroHawk GmbH, a joint-venture company formed by Northrop Grumman and EADS, for the development, test and support of the Euro Hawk® unmanned signals intelligence (SIGINT) surveillance and reconnaissance system. With a wing span larger than a commercial airliner’s, the Euro Hawk® UAS will serve as the German Air Force’s HALE SIGINT system.
The Euro Hawk® is a derivative of the Block 20 Global Hawk, equipped with a new SIGINT mission system developed by EADS. The SIGINT system provides stand-off capability to detect ELINT radar emitters and communications intelligence emitters. EADS will also provide the ground stations that will receive and analyze the data from Euro Hawk® as part of an integrated system solution. A joint team will conduct integration and flight test activity in Germany in late 2009.