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PAS11: Global Hawk IOT&E report a 'history lesson'

PARIS  -- Northrop Grumman's RQ-4 Global Hawk drone has overcome six of the nine problem areas identified in by the Air Force during operational testing and evaluation late last year, company officials said Monday.

"When you see the report, and the report took a long time to get issued, it's kind of a history lesson; out of the nine major shortcomings in the IOT&E report, we've already solved six of them and the other three will be done before the end of this year," Ed Walby, Northrop's director of business development for High Altitude-Long Endurance systems told a group of reporters here. "Some of them are techniques, some of them are hardware related, most of them fell in the category of how you operate the system."

He went on to explain that some of the shortfalls attributed to 'bad techniques' had to do with the fact that Air Force intel analysts who were looking at data sent from the Block 30 model Global Hawk to an intelligence exploitation center weren't 100 percent up to speed on some of the newest software found in the intel center (known as a Distributed Common Ground System). In other words; the Global Hawk performed fine, the analysts on the ground weren't used to their newest tools yet, according to Walby.

"Some of the systems that Global Hawk attaches to are outside of our program; so when I talk about techniques, the data comes to a ground station and goes to a mission exploitation station that [performance] gets graded also," said Walby.

Here's some background on last year's tests.

Northrop spokesman Jim Stratford elaborated on some of the points made by Walby; saying in a follow up email detailing some of the fixes that it's fairly normal for weapon systems to have some trouble with IOT&E:

  • We view the AFOTEC report and operational test findings as a positive step forward for Global Hawk, since this affords us an opportunity to further mature the Global Hawk system.
  • We recently deployed the first Block 20 and Block 30 Global Hawks to the field and have received high praise from the Combatant Commanders for the game-changing capabilities.
  • Since their recent worldwide deployment began last August, the Block 20s and 30s have performed quite well and have flown more than 160 Block 20/30 missions in support of humanitarian and combat operations accumulating more than 3500 flight hours and performing at better than 90% Mission Effectiveness.  This is particularly significant because this is in advance of an official Initial Operational Capability (IOC) declaration.
  • Partially Mission Capable (PMC) ratings for major weapon and weapon systems are the norm for newly fielded capabilities, with system sustainability issues as the leading challenges requiring support and funding as the weapon system matures.
  • However we know that the Global Hawk system can be improved.  The results from the AFOTEC report will help us chart that improvement plan.
Since the completion of IOT&E,   Northrop Grumman and the USAF have worked to incorporate several improvements and the system has performed quite well over Japan and Libya in March and April 2011. These enhancements will help us to increase Global Hawk’s utility to the war-fighter.
  • During IOT&E, we had a few aircraft issues, and issues related to training and communications.  We are aggressively working to improve aircraft reliability and maintainability, as well as improving operator training.  As an example, the IOT&E report identified the premature failure of the generator oil pump.  This was a known issue that was being worked in parallel with IOT&E. That issue is behind us with current aircraft flying upgraded generators with several thousand hours without any problems.
  • Of the nine most frequent issues Global Hawk experienced during IOT&E (the top nine issues comprised over 80% of all issues), we have initiated corrective action on all of the top Issues.   To date, six of the nine top IOT&E issues are corrected, and the team is on track to complete the remainder in several months.
  • Items completed include implementation of the new 25kVA generator, improvements to the Integrated Sensor Processor to enhance sensor reliability, several enhancements to the CAMA (common airborne modem assembly) and ground control panel, and improvements to the brake control system as well.   Process improvements are currently in work for nutplate bonding,  enhancements to the Kearfott navigators to improve reliability, changes to the sensor management unit for  improved sensor performance, and  changes to engine fuel nozzles which increase the maintenance cycle times.
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