Northrop Grumman has conducted successful flight testing with its new Ground Station Modernization Program (GSMP) for the United States Air Force’s RQ-4 Global Hawks. This applies updated interfaces for the operators, as well as improvements to the software.
Northrop states that the modernized Global Hawk ground stations greatly improve the operator experience with new cockpit displays, the ability to fly all Global Hawk variants without software or configuration changes, simpler maintenance interfaces, and improved situational awareness and environmental conditions for pilots and sensor operators.
All of these improvements means that the Global Hawk operators now have options for interoperability with other Air Force systems and enhanced responsiveness to ad hoc mission taskings. Speaking of the GSMP Col. William Collins, Global Hawk System Program Director for the USAF, said that:
“I am very excited about the new capability the Ground Segment Modernization Program will deliver …Not only will it allow the operators to conduct their missions from an enhanced, building-based control element…[it has] system security enhancements that will ensure this vital capability continues to be secure from cyber threats.”
The Global Hawks have long formed a critical part of the American – and allies – reconnaissance capability. A high altitude, remotely piloted surveillance aircraft, they are reported to cost as much as $220 million each, depending on configuration and sensor load out.
Being unmanned, they can conduct extremely long patrols and be used in dangerous areas where their loss entails far less military and political risk. This was graphically demonstrated in June 2019 when an RQ-4N was shot down by Iran. In response to questions as to why he had not ordered counter strikes against Iranian missile batteries, President Trump said: “I thought about it for a second and I said, you know what, they shot down an unmanned drone…”
Now in service for almost twenty years and built in several models to fulfil separate specialist roles, the institution of the GSMP will go towards simplifying the various different control modules that are used for the variety of versions of the Global Hawk, ensuring it continues to perform critical service into the foreseeable future.