Northrop Grumman will be repurposing four decommissioned RQ-4 Global Hawk drones into Range Hawk surveillance platforms to assist US armed forces during hypersonic missile testing.
Returned to the company’s Grand Sky facility last week, the Global Hawks will be equipped with new telemetry-gathering sensors to track hypersonic missiles instead of ground-based targets.
Officials at the handover ceremony suggested the old unmanned aerial vehicles be equipped with an electro-optical sensor and radar optimized for aerial targets to track hypersonic weapons that travel farther than most conventional missiles.
According to a report by The Drive, the drones will also likely be equipped with long-range data links that can transmit telemetry from missile tests to ground stations very quickly. These data links could also support other types of critical communications, particularly in remote areas.
Once the retrofitting is complete, the Global Hawks will be delivered to military facilities located on the East or West Coast for hypersonic missile trials.
About the Global Hawk
The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system capable of traveling up to 8,700 nautical miles (16,112 kilometers) for 42 hours. It also has satellite and line-of-sight communication links to ground forces for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.
According to Northrop Grumman, the vehicle’s intelligence-gathering capabilities can allow soldiers and civilian authorities to respond to natural disasters, conduct search-and-rescue operations, and gather weather and atmospheric data.
In addition to sensors, the vehicle features a Rolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan engine and an aluminum fuselage with pressurized payload compartments.
Repurposing the Global Hawk is part of an air force decision to divest itself of the service’s oldest aerial vehicles and reconfigure them to assist missile development. The service continues to emphasize the growing importance of hypersonic weapons development.