The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft with an integrated sensor suite that provides global all-weather, day or night intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability. Global Hawk’s mission is to provide a broad spectrum of ISR collection capability to support joint combatant forces in worldwide peacetime, contingency and wartime operations. The Global Hawk provides persistent near-real-time coverage using imagery intelligence (IMINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT) and moving target indicator (MTI) sensors.
Global Hawk is currently fielded in three distinct blocks. Seven Block 10 aircraft were procured, but were retired from the Air Force inventory in 2011. Block 20s were initially fielded with IMINT-only capabilities, but three Block 20s have been converted to an EQ-4 communication relay configuration, carrying the Battlefield Airborne Communication Node (BACN) payload. Block 30 is a multi-intelligence platform that simultaneously carries electro-optical, infrared, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), and high and low band SIGINT sensors. Block 30 Initial Operating Capability (IOC) was declared in August 2011. Eighteen Block 30s are currently fielded, supporting every geographic combatant command as well as combat missions in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom/ New Dawn. Block 30s also supported Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya and humanitarian relief efforts during Operation Tomodachi in Japan. Block 40 carries the Radar Technology Insertion Program (RTIP) active electronically scanned array radar which provides MTI and SAR data. Block 40 Early Operating Capability (EOC) was declared in Sep 2013 and eleven Block 40s are currently fielded, supporting operations in four combatant commands. IOC is projected in 2015.
Global Hawk is flown by a Launch and Recovery Element (LRE) and a Mission Control Element (MCE). The LRE is located at the aircraft base and functions to launch and recover the aircraft while en route to and from the target area. The MCE controls the Global Hawk for the bulk of the ISR mission. Like the LRE, the MCE is manned by one pilot, but adds a sensor operator to the crew. Command and control data links enable complete dynamic control of the aircraft. The pilot workstations in the MCE and LRE are the control and display interface (cockpit) providing aircraft health and status, sensors status and a means to alter the navigational track of the aircraft. From this station, the pilot also communicates with outside entities to coordinate the mission (air traffic control, airborne controllers, ground controllers, other ISR assets).
The sensor operator workstation provides capability to task the sensor, dynamically update the collection plan in real time, initiate sensor calibration and monitor sensor status. The sensor operator also assists the exploitation node with image quality control, target deck prioritization and scene tracking to ensure fluid operations.
The system offers a wide variety of employment options. The unmatched range and 30+ hour endurance allow tremendous flexibility in meeting mission requirements. In 2014, an RQ-4 Block 40 flew a 34.3 hour flight, setting the endurance record for longest unrefueled flight by a U.S. Air Force aircraft.
Global Hawk began as an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration in 1995. The system was determined to have military utility and provide warfighters with an evolutionary high-altitude, long-endurance ISR capability. The Global Hawk has been deployed operationally to support overseas contingency operations since November 2001.
In the RQ-4 name, the “R” is the Department of Defense designation for reconnaissance and “Q” means unmanned aircraft system. The “4” refers to the series of purpose-built remotely piloted aircraft systems. The “E” in EQ-4 delineates the communication configuration of the BACN equipped aircraft.
The Global Hawk is operated by the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base, California, and the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron at Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota, but aircraft are rotated to operational detachments worldwide. The 1st RS at Beale AFB provides formal training for all RQ-4 pilots and Block 30 sensor operators, while the 348 RS formal training unit (FTU) at Grand Forks AFB provides training for all Block 40 sensor operators.
Primary function: high-altitude, long-endurance ISR
Contractor: Northrop Grumman (Prime), Raytheon, L3 Comm
Power Plant: Rolls Royce-North American F137-RR-100 turbofan engine
Thrust: 7,600 pounds
Wingspan: 130.9 feet (39.8 meters)
Length: 47.6 feet (14.5 meters)
Height: 15.3 feet (4.7 meters)
Weight: 14,950 pounds (6,781 kilograms)
Maximum takeoff weight: 32,250 pounds (14628 kilograms)
Fuel Capacity: 17,300 pounds (7847 kilograms)
Payload: 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms)
Speed: 310 knots (357 mph)
Range: 12,300 nautical miles
Endurance: more than 34 hours
Ceiling: 60,000 feet (18,288 meters)
Crew (remote): three (LRE pilot, MCE pilot, and sensor operator)
Initial operating capability: 2011 (Block 30); 2015 (Block 40)
Inventory: active force, 33 (three more Block 30s purchased, to be fielded in 2017)