Published: 1 January 2009
Air & Space Power Journal - Espaņol  Cuarto  Trimestre 2008

RQ-4 Global Hauk Unmanned Aircraft System

RQ-4 Global HawkMission

The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system with an integrated sensor suite that provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, capability worldwide. Global Hawk's mission is to provide a broad spectrum of ISR collection capability to support joint combatant forces in worldwide peacetime, contingency and wartime operations. The Global Hawk complements manned and space reconnaissance systems by providing near-real-time coverage using imagery intelligence or IMINT, sensors.


The Global Hawk system consists of the RQ-4 aircraft, mission control element, or MCE, launch and recovery element, or LRE, sensors, communication links, support element and trained personnel. The IMINT sensors include synthetic aperture radar, electro-optical and medium-wave infrared sensors. The system offers a wide variety of employment options. The long range and endurance of this system allow tremendous flexibility in meeting mission requirements.

The Global Hawk will eventually carry the airborne signals intelligence payload. One version of Global Hawk will carry the Radar Technology Insertion Program active electronically scanned array radar.

The MCE serves as the Global Hawk cockpit during the operational portion of the mission with a pilot and sensor operator crew. Command and control data links provide the Global Hawk crew complete dynamic control of the aircraft. The pilot workstations in the MCE and LRE act as the cockpit on the ground for the pilot to control and display platform status transmitted from the aircraft via the command and control link (health and status of the aircraft, sensors, navigational systems and communication links). From this station, the pilot communicates with outside entities to coordinate the mission (air traffic control, airborne controllers, ground controllers, other ISR assets, etc.). When necessary the pilot can land the aircraft at any location provided in the aircraft mission plan. The sensor operator workstation manually provides the capability to dynamically update the collection plan, monitor sensor status, initiate sensor calibration and process, distribute, and store data. The sensor operator provides quality control of images on selected targets of high interest (ad hoc, dynamic targets, etc.)

The LRE, located at the aircraft base, launches the aircraft until handoff to the MCE contains functions required to launch, recover and operate an aircraft while en route to or from the target area. The LRE contains one pilot station providing the capability to operate one aircraft with no sensor operations.


Global Hawk began as an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration in 1995. The system was determined to have military utility and provide warfighters with a high-altitude, long-endurance ISR capability. While still a developmental system, Global Hawk deployed operationally to support the global war on terrorism in November 2001.

In the RQ-4 name, the "R" is the Department of Defense designation for reconnaissance and "Q" means unmanned aircraft system. The "4" refers to the series of purpose-built remotely piloted aircraft systems.

The Global Hawk UAS provides near-continuous all-weather, day/night, wide area surveillance and will eventually replace the U-2.

The Global Hawk is operated by the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron. The 1st RS provides formal training; both squadrons are located at Beale Air Force Base, Calif.

General Characteristics

Primary function: High-altitude, long-endurance intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance

Contractor: Northrop Grumman (Prime), Raytheon, L3 Comm

Power Plant: Rolls Royce-North American AE 3007H turbofan

Thrust: 7,600 pounds

Wingspan: (RQ-4A) 116 feet (35.3 meters); (RQ-4B) 130.9 feet (39.8 meters)

Length: (RQ-4A) 44 feet (13.4 meters); RQ-4B, 47.6 feet (14.5 meters)

Height: RQ-4A 15.2 (4.6 meters); RQ-4B, 15.3 feet (4.7 meters)

Weight: RQ-4A, 11,350 pounds (5,148 kilograms); RQ-4B, 14,950 pounds (6,781 kilograms)

Maximum takeoff weight: RQ-4A, 26,750 pounds (12,133 kilograms ); RQ-4B, 32,250 pounds (14628 kilograms)

Fuel Capacity: RQ-4A, 15,400 pounds (6,985 kilograms); RQ-4B, 17,300 pounds (7847 kilograms)

Payload: RQ-4A, 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms); RQ-4B, 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms)

Speed: RQ-4A, 340 knots (391 mph); RQ-4B, 310 knots (357 mph)

Range: RQ-4A, 9,500 nautical miles; RQ-4B, 8,700 nautical miles

Ceiling: 60,000 feet (18,288 meters)

Crew (remote): Three (LRE pilot, MCE pilot and sensor operator)

Unit Cost: RQ-4A, $37.6 million; RQ-4B, $55-$81 million

Initial operating capability: fiscal 2012

Inventory: Active force, RQ-4A: 7; RQ-4B: 3

Air Combat Command, Public Affairs Office; 130 Andrews St., Suite 202; Langley AFB, VA 23665-1987; DSN 574-5007 or 757-764-5007; e-mail:

Source: US Air Force, October 2008

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