Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Global Hawk arrives in Guam

by Tech. Sgt. Mike Andriacco, 36th Wing Public Affairs

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- Airmen here celebrated the arrival of the RQ-4 Global Hawk to Guam during a ceremony Sept. 20.

The Global Hawk brings significant capabilities to the Pacific theater, which will benefit the 36th Wing, Pacific Air Forces, U.S. Pacific Command, and regional partners, said Gen. Gary North, the PACAF commander.

"Having an (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) capability within the Pacific greatly enhances Air Force operational intelligence capabilities to meet mission requirements," General North said. "In addition, the Global Hawk will enhance the U.S. and its partners' ability to effectively address regional challenges, such as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, terrorism and piracy."

The Global Hawk is capable of providing government and military decision makers near real-time, high-altitude, long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance imagery that can support a full spectrum of operations. Flying above ordinary commercial traffic, the aircraft can survey large geographic areas with pinpoint accuracy, without impacting civilian aircraft routes. The imagery provides the most current information available during contingency or crisis situations.

"This is a technology that saves lives," said Lt. Col. Brandon Baker, the Air Combat Command Det. 3 commander. "The RQ-4 has been used in contingency operations and humanitarian missions before. During wildfires in California, the Global Hawk provided firefighters with a near real-time view of the crisis and helped firefighters and rescue personnel direct their efforts."

In January, the Global Hawk also provided imagery to coordinators of the international disaster relief and humanitarian mission in Haiti's earthquake.

"Basing the RQ-4 at Andersen will support ongoing regional partnerships and reaffirm to U.S. friends, allies and partner nations of our commitment to continue modernization efforts and force structure beddown to support maintaining peace and stability in the region," General North said.

So far, one of three planned Global Hawks has arrived here. The remaining two are scheduled to arrive later this year and at the beginning of 2011. Local crews will launch and land the aircraft from here, while crews at Beale AFB, Calif., will control the bulk of the mission, once out of the local area.

"We'll be flying missions in support of U.S. Pacific Command priorities," Colonel Baker said. "We also intend to share with our allies information pertaining to common regional challenges like humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and piracy."

The Global Hawk has flown more than 45,000 hours worldwide since becoming operational in 1995. The remotely piloted aircraft is flown using a variety of communications protocols, complete with built-in safety measures in the event that communication between the mission control and the aircraft is lost.

In the event that all communication with the aircraft is lost or it encounters an in-flight emergency, the Global Hawk is programmed to continue its flight to its original destination or return to its point of origin and land. During this time, the pilot may be able to reestablish a link to the aircraft. If that is impossible, the Global Hawk is capable of landing on its own.

"The aircraft is flown by fully qualified, certified U.S. Air Force pilots -- a fact which contributes to the RQ-4's unparalleled safety record," Colonel Baker said. "The RQ-4 negotiates pre-programmed flight plans and the pilots communicate with air traffic controllers in a similar manner as pilots in manned aircraft."