Murphy's Law: EuroHawk Busted


May 18, 2009: European bureaucrats are making it difficult for Germany to take delivery of recently purchased, American built, RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs. Six years ago, a RQ-4A was equipped with electronic eavesdropping equipment and flown to Germany for demonstration flights. The Germans were impressed enough to design modifications for the Global Hawk, which  turned it into what they are calling Eurohawk. But in the meantime, European aviation authorities  became alarmed at the danger of UAVs flying in the same air space with manned aircraft. Thus the delays in arranging the delivery of the first German RQ-4 by the end of the year. The aviation regulators have to be convinced that the RQ-4 can be brought safely through U.S., British and German air space.

Germany is buying five RQ-4s, for $112 million each. The UAVs will replace the German Atlantic 1150 Electronic Reconnaissance (ELINT) aircraft. The RQ-4 can stay in the air for up to 36 hours at a time and would be cheaper to operate than a manned recon aircraft. Germany's Atlantic 1150 aircraft will be retired, mainly because they are too old and expensive to maintain. The EuroHawk will use electronics supplied by European manufacturers. The U.S. Air Force is currently paying $130 million each for Global Hawks, with recon equipment included. Germany will be getting the B version, which is larger (wingspan is 15 feet larger, at 131 feet, and it's four feet longer at 48 feet) than the A model, and can carry an additional two tons of equipment. To support that, there's a new generator that produces 150 percent more electrical power. The first three RQ-4Bs entered service in 2006. At 13 tons, the Global Hawk is the size of a commuter airliner (like the Embraer ERJ 145), but costs more than three times as much.

In the last seven years, RQ-4s have flown over 25,000 hours, most of that combat missions, and many of them from Persian Gulf bases. The latest models have been able to fly 20 hour missions, land for refueling and maintenance, and be off in four hours for another twenty hours in the sky. The RQ-4 has been very reliable, with aircraft being ready for action 95 percent of the time. The U.S. Air Force has been buying them at the rate of five a year. An RQ-4 can survey about 4,000 square kilometers an hour with cameras, and more than double that with some electronic sensors.



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