Northrop Grumman flew a SYERS-2 (senior year electro-optical reconnaissance systems) intelligence gathering sensor on an RQ-4 Global Hawk, marking the debut of the legacy U.S. Air Force sensor on a UAS (unmanned aircraft system).
With the success of the SYERS-2 flight, Northrop Grumman plans to fly an optical bar camera (OBC) sensor and an MS-177 multi-spectral sensor later in the year. Payload integration is not new to high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) Global Hawk. NASA has successfully integrated and flown over 30 different information-gathering payloads on Global Hawk.
It was about 18 months ago that the USAF selected UTC Aerospace Systems to upgrade the SYERS-2 imaging sensor fleet to the SYERS-2C variant. The upgrade to the SYERS-2C configuration featured advances in multi-spectral technology and increased the spectral resolution and image interpretability beyond that of the baseline system, which is said to already providesthe longest range on the National Imagery Interpretability Rating Scale (NIIRS). That further extends the NIIRS range of the Department of Defense airborne intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) inventory.
"This SYERS variant brings unique capabilities, particularly advantageous to joint operations in the air/sea battle domain," said Kevin Raftery, Vice President, UTC Aerospace Systems. "The initial SYERS-2C system is now supporting the full COCOM ISR requirements."
It was SYERS-2A that was tasked for strategic intelligence collection on the U-2 spy plane since the 1960s; SYERS-2A collected seven spectral bands simultaneously, providing very high resolution imagery, day and night. UTC says the system’s shortwave IR and mid-wave IR capability "enables low-light operation, operation in adverse weather conditions such as haze and smoke, defeats CC&D and supports CIED/COIN operations. Imagery is produced in a variety of false color composites, optical measurement and signature intelligence and optical moving target indication products."
Existing models of the USAF Global Hawk are capable of carrying a variety of payloads, including an Enhanced Integrated Sensor Suite, Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload, and Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program. Northrop Grumman's Universal Payload Adapter (UPA), a bracket that mounts to an existing Global Hawk airframe, allows it to support a wider variety of payloads including legacy and future sensors.
"This SYERS-2 flight is only the beginning. With the addition of the UPA, Global Hawk is capable of flying any mission the U.S. Air Force requires," said Mick Jaggers, Vice President and Program Manager, Global Hawk, Northrop Grumman. "Northrop Grumman is funding this study to prove that the system can affordably carry the same sensors as any other ISR aircraft."
Flight tests are taking place at Northrop Grumman's Palmdale, CA, facility in cooperation with the USAF, a team that reached a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) last year that allows the company to test previously unavailable sensors on the Global Hawk.
Northrop Grumman's HALE UAS series have exceeded more than 160,000 total flight hours. The system's cost per flight hour has fallen to half that of the manned competitor.