Magazine article National Defense

Although Combat Proven, Global Hawk Has Yet to Pass Key Tests

Magazine article National Defense

Although Combat Proven, Global Hawk Has Yet to Pass Key Tests

Article excerpt

In an upcoming evaluation of the U.S. Air Force Global Hawk reconnaissance unmanned aircraft, testers will determine whether a military system that already has seen extensive combat can pass the rigorous tests the Defense Department, by law, requires before an aircraft can be deployed.

The Global Hawk, which provides field commanders with high resolution and near-real-time imagery of large geographic areas, was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, even though the aircraft was still in development. Commanders needed the technology to find targets and gather tactical intelligence.

The Global Hawk will go through a so-called "operational assessment" at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in the spring of 2005. The more rigorous "initial operational test and evaluation" will not happen until 2007. IOT&E is considered the "big" report card for a program once it enters full production. It verifies that the system is meeting the specified requirements.

Putting a system that has been in real-world operations through a test program is "highly unusual," said Jay Humphlett, director of strategy and business development at the Raytheon Company, which makes the sensors and ground control stations for the Global Hawk.

However, the Pentagon has a track record of rushing prototype systems to war before they have completed operational testing. A case in point is the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System ground surveillance aircraft. While still in development, JSTARS was deployed to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The Predator UAV, which, like Global Hawk, began as a demonstration program, was sent to combat in the Balkans in 1999.

Northrop Grumman Corp., the manufacturer of the airframes, so far has delivered 10 Global Hawks to the Air Force--seven prototypes and three production aircraft. The first two production vehicles are at Edwards, while the third was scheduled to be delivered to Beale Air Force Base, in October. …

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