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Global Hawk's historic journey a success

June, 2001

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Global Hawk is towed out of its 92WG hanger prior to an evening launch on 10 May.
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Global Hawk's first launch from RAAF Edinburgh on 27 April.
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Two of the senior military personnel involved in the Global Hawk deployment to Australia, COL Wayne Johnson, USAF, and AIRCDRE Graham Bentley RAAF in front of Global Hawk.
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Global Hawk on the runway after its arrival from Edwards Air Force Base on 23 April.
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Air Commodore Byrne introduces guest speakers to the media at the Global Hawk Media Day on 24 April.
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RAAF Edinburgh Service Police, LACW Sally Daies and LAC Savo Stankovich, secure Global Hawk for the official Media Day.
When the United States' unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), Global Hawk, touched down at RAAF Base Edinburgh in South Australia on 23 April there was applause, sighs of relief and a general feeling of achievement that washed over Defence personnel responsible for the deployment.

The historic landing of the world's most advanced high altitude, long endurance UAV saw the hard work and dedication of a four-way partnership between the Royal Australian Air Force, Defence Science and Technology Organisation, the United States Air Force and contractor Northrop Grumman come to fruition.

'2001 is the 50th anniversary of ANZUS and the fact that the US involves Australia on projects like this is testament to the strength of the pact,' Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Errol McCormack said.

Furthermore, Global Hawk's arrival signalled that about 200 Australians and Americans were about to embark on a series of evaluation flights with leading edge technology that has the potential to change the way the ADF's operates.

Global Hawk, renamed Southern Cross II for its six-week Australian deployment, is expected to fly a total of 12 missions around Australia and its maritime approaches to allow RAAF, DSTO and USAF personnel to jointly assess its suitability to conduct maritime, littoral and land surveillance, and stand-off reconnaissance operations.

It took 23 hours and 20 minutes for the air vehicle to fly non-stop across the Pacific, creating aerospace history in the process. Global Hawk had its maiden flight in February 1998 and since then five of the air vehicles have completed a total of 72 flights.

Australian Deployment Commander Air Commodore Graham Bentley said the deployment was providing an opportunity to assess the complete concept of UAV employment in the Australian region.

'UAVs, like Global Hawk, have the potential to fundamentally change the force structure of the ADF and the way we do business,' said AIRCDRE Bentley.

'What we need to assess is whether the ADF can incorporate Global Hawk into our overall surveillance architecture - that is, how could it fit in with sensors such as the P3 Orions, Jindalee Over The Horizon Radar network and Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft.

'To do this, the Australian military focus is on all aspects of the UAV's operation, including the aircraft system, the sensor fit, life cycle costing, personnel numbers and training required to man the system, communications requirements, ground support infrastructure and an operational concept for its use.

'This is a huge undertaking, but our personnel are totally focussed on achieving a profitable outcome during the next six weeks.'

It has taken two years of intensive technical collaboration between Australia and the United States to make this deployment a reality, with DSTO scientist and Project Director, Dr Jackie Craig, leading the Australian research and development team.

Dr Craig, her team of 46 staff and about 22 industry contractors have made a major contribution to the deployment by developing the Australian Ground Element (AGE).

The AGE, which looks like a modified shipping container from the outside, contains a bank of computers which allow DSTO and RAAF personnel to take control of the Global Hawk sensors and provide real time analysis of the data being obtained by the air vehicle's sensors. USAF personnel sit in a nearby 'container', monitoring the Global Hawk during its pre-programmed, computerised routes.

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Global Hawk at RAAF Edinburgh.
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Global Hawk's arrival at RAAF Edinburgh after a 32-hr flight from USAF Base Edwards on 23 April.
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USAF Starlifter delivers the USAF Command module to RAAF Edinburgh on 9 April.
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The majority of principle staff involved in the Global Hawk deployment to Australia - they simply couldn't say no to a photo opportunity in front of the aircraft.

'It has been a challenge, but has culminated in leading edge technology being developed for the Australian Defence Force,' said Dr Craig.

'Our scientists were determined to use their expertise in radar development and surveillance systems analysis to produce new radar sensor modes that satisfy Australian operational requirements.

'The analysis of near real time imagery are the basis for the AGE.'

A group of 34 RAAF personnel and two Defence civilians, led by Squadron Leaders Jeff Frost and Andrew Perry, are responsible for operating the Global Hawk's new maritime sensors from within the AGE.

While 10 of the personnel are from the Maritime Patrol Group, 12 were chosen from the Surveillance and Control Group to provide Air Defence expertise and 14 intelligence personnel from Strike Reconnaissance Group, Headquarters Australian Theatre and the Defence Imagery and Geo-spatial Organisation were selected for their imagery analyst and intelligence skills.

'As a team we will be looking to draw on our learnt skills and knowledge as well as learning from each other and at times by 'osmosis',' said SQNLDR Frost.

'Working on this project is a great opportunity for all the personnel involved because although UAV technology has been around for many years, the use of High Altitude Endurance UAV's for Maritime Surveillance in the littoral and open ocean environments is a new and exciting concept for both the United States and Australian Defence Forces.

'Hopefully, this demonstration will go a long way in determining a future role for UAV's in the ADF, as well as providing my crew members with invaluable insight into this cutting edge technology.'

During the deployment, Global Hawk was expected to be involved in a wide variety of scenarios ranging from open ocean surveillance against large military and merchant ships to littoral surveillance against small boats and land targets.

The Global Hawk was also involved in May's combined US and Australian military exercise, Tandem Thrust, where the aim was to provide near 'real time' imagery to Australian commanders on the ground in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland.


  • Global Hawk UAV will provide battlefield commanders near-real-time, high-resolution, reconnaissance imagery.

  • Flying at extremely high altitudes, it can survey large geographic areas with pinpoint accuracy giving military decision-makers the most current information about enemy resources and personnel.

  • Once mission parametres are programmed into Global Hawk, the UAV can autonomously taxi, take off, fly, remain on station capturing imagery, return and land. Ground-based operators monitor its health and status, with the ability to change navigation and sensor plans during flight as necessary.

  • Global Hawk, which has a wingspan of 116 feet and is 44 feet long, can range as far as 12,000 nautical miles, at altitudes up to 65,000 feet, flying at speeds approaching 340 knots (about 400mph) for as long as 35 hours.

  • During a typical mission, the aircraft can fly 1200 miles to an area of interest and remain on station for 24 hours.

  • Its cloud-penetrating, Synthetic Aperture Radar/Ground Moving Target Indicator, Electro-Optical and Infared sensors can image an area the size of Illinois (40,000 square miles) in just 24 hours.

  • When fully fuelled for flight, Global Hawk weighs about 25,600 pounds. More than half the UAV's components are constructed of lightweight, high-strength composite materials, including its wings, wing fairings, empennage, aluminium, semi-monocoque construction.

  • While in country, Global Hawk will fly about 12 missions around Australia and its maritime approaches allowing Australia's DSTO, RAAF and the US to jointly assess the military utility of high altitude endurance UAVs to conduct maritime, littoral and land surveillance, and stand-off reconnaissance operations.

  • This collaboration between Australia and the United States benefits both countries. It allows Australian scientists to contribute to leading edge UAV technology while assessing the potential value of Global Hawk for the protection of Australian territory and maritime approaches.

Stories by Deanna Nott
Photographs by 92WG Photographic