Northrop Tests New Global Hawk Drone Sensor


ORLANDO, Florida -- Northrop Grumman successfully tested an MS-177 multi-spectral sensor in the RQ-4 Global Hawk, the company said Wednesday.

The MS-177 is intended to surpass the Senior Year Electro-optical Reconnaissance System, or SYERS-2, used in the U-2 Dragon Lady.

"It's the future of Air Force ISR," said Northrop's Mike Lyons in an interview with on Wednesday.

Northrop is showcasing the sensors for the Global Hawk -- by UTC Aerospace Systems -- at the Air Force Association's Air Warfare Symposium here. "It's a family of sensors, provides [a broad] area, multispectral collection -- seven bands moving to 10 bands of multispectral … and we're the first platform to be fielding it."

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The wide-range collection sensor has about a 100-mile range, said Lyons, the defense company's head of business development for the Global Hawk. The Air Force will follow on with its own developmental testing and then send field requirements back to the company, hopefully "around December," he said.

Photos by Oriana Pawlyk at the annual Air Force Association's Air, Space & Cyber Conference 2016, National Harbor, Md.

The MS-177 flew in the long-range RQ-4 at Northrop's Palmdale, California, facility Feb. 8. The next variant, the MS-177A, is expected to be fielded by 2019, Lyons said.

He said retrofitting sensors for the Global Hawk -- such as the SYERS and the Optical Bar Camera (also used in the U-2) -- has been streamlined because of the universal payload adapter concept: an 18-point system bracket mounted onto the belly of the aircraft that can carry sensors up to 1,200 pounds. The UPA doesn't limit the aircraft to a specific bloc sensor and supports each capability.

"When the Air Force first estimated trying to put a new sensor on, it estimated it [to be] $600 million to put enough sensors on to replace [the RQ-4's] legacy [sensors]," Lyons said. The Falls Church, Virginia-based company is doing it for less than $80 million, he said.

Northrop also flew with the OBC broad-area synoptic sensor in October as proof the U-2's sensors could be used in the Global Hawk.

Air Force officials have said the service may start retiring the Dragon Lady in 2019. Its retirement -- and push to use the Global Hawk instead -- could save the Air Force $2.2 billion, noted in the 2016 defense budget request, as reported by Defense News.

The OBC wet-film, high resolution camera can't be altered. As part of a Middle East peace treaty from the 1970s, some countries -- or "signatories" privy to the intelligence from the camera -- mandated the use of unalterable film. "It's [extra] assuredness," Lyons said.

The company flew the legacy SYERS purely for demonstration last year, he said. But should the Air Force want to continue flying with the sensor, "we could fly it."

Northrop is rolling three Global Hawks off its assembly line this year for the Air Force with the UPA already in tow, but they will also have the standard electro-optical, infrared or thermal, and radar and signals intelligence capabilities.

The first RQ-4 should be delivered to the service in April, another this summer and the third early in 2018, Lyons said.

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