This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.
The U.S. Navy is considering deploying its first Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to an air base near Iraq to experiment with its ability to conduct maritime surveillance, according to defense officials.
Navy officials declined to discuss the exact location for a deployment. "Longer-term options for the system may include additional deployment situations -- allowing the system to demonstrate its unique persistent maritime ISR capabilities in various overseas environments," says Chuck Wagner, a spokesman for Naval Air Systems Command.
According to other defense officials, the Navy Global Hawk is expected to arrive at a base in the Middle East early next year, and the aircraft will be co-located with Air Force Global Hawks already at that base. Defense officials declined to identify the base, citing security issues. But it is widely known that the Air Force's high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft supporting activities in Iraq and Afghanistan operate from Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates.
The high-flying Global Hawk is capable of collecting intelligence from above 55,000 feet altitude for a day or more at a time. The Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD) vehicle, one of two Block 10 Global Hawks owned by the Navy, is carrying an integrated sensor suite. These aircraft were bought to allow the Navy to experiment with using a UAV for maritime surveillance. Using various modes -- for inverse synthetic aperture radar, maritime search and target acquisition -- this sensor can conduct surveillance of surface ships. The aircraft also carries the LR100, a basic signals intelligence collector.
The GHMD aircraft have been used for a variety of exercises, including Trident Warrior 08 and Rim of the Pacific 08. Most recently, the aircraft collected images of wildfires in California this summer and of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Ike.
The UAVs will give the Pentagon a new tool to use for monitoring shipping activity in the Persian Gulf, where several scrapes with Iranian ships have occurred in recent months. And the deployment will give the Navy some hands-on operational experience deploying the UAV prior to inducting its future Global Hawks into the fleet.
These Navy vehicles are not to be confused with the Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) development program. Under that effort, Northrop Grumman is designing and building Global Hawk Block 20-based aircraft designed for maritime surveillance.