The first Block 40 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft was unveiled at Northrop Grumman. The aircraft will begin flight testing next year and will be one of 15 to operate from the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, beginning in 2010. “Carrying an advanced, all-weather multi-platform radar technology insertion program (MP-RTIP) sensor, the Block 40 aircraft will provide game-changing situational awareness for our warfighters with its unprecedented capability to detect, track and identify stationary and moving targets” Said Duke Dufresne, sector vice president for Northrop Grumman Aerospace System’s Strike and Surveillance Systems Division. Designated AF-18, this Block 40 aircraft was the 27th Global Hawk built since the program’s inception in 1995 and is scheduled to begin flight testing next month.

“The Global Hawk system is in high demand by joint warfighters overseas, having successfully flown more than 31,000 hours since 2001,” said Steve Amburgey, Global Hawk program director for the 303rd Aeronautical Systems Group at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Flying at altitudes of more than 60,000 feet for more than 32 hours per sortie at speeds approaching 340 knots, the MP-RTIP-equipped Block 40 Global Hawk will be able to persistently see through most type of weather, day or night. Use of the MP-RTIP sensor on the Block 40 Global Hawks marks the first time the active electronic scanned array (AESA) technology has been used on a high-altitude unmanned aircraft. AESA technology provides all-weather, day-night synthetic aperture radar mapping and ground moving target indicator capability. The development MP-RTIP sensor is undergoing a radar system level performance verification on a surrogate aircraft, and will be integrated into AF-18 for an operational evaluation.

MP-RTIP equipped Global Hawks will also provide NATO users with real-time data, intelligence, and target identification to users within and beyond line of sight. The Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system is designed to be able to perform NATO missions fully independently during peacetime and early crisis. Originally conceived as a manned-unmanned fleet combining Airbus radar carrying platforms and HALE UAVs, the program was trimmed in September 2007, as the member nations recommended not to proceed with the original mixed fleet program of record and agreed to move forward with a UAV-only solution based on an off the shelf Block 40 Global Hawk. Northrop Grumman will be the prime contractor for the NATO AGS program, supported by industries in the 21 participating nations. The system architecture and the configuration of the NATO AGS ground segment is especially developed to accommodate a network centric approach, with emphasis on a local area network design and real-time exchange of data between AGS users. Also, the use of standardization will ensure system interoperability, not only with the NATO C3I systems, but also national ISR systems. Through the AGS ground segment, NATO forces will also have access to nationally acquired reconnaissance and surveillance data.

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