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Northrop Grumman has deployed a virtual common imagery processor (Cip) at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, US, to support the US Air Force’s (USAF) RQ-4 Block 40 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system (UAS).

The CIP installation was primarily intended to address an urgent outstanding USAF requirement for Global Hawk sensor operators to be able to view and respond to real-time processed imagery.

Northrop’s CIP programme personnel installed an image quality checker (IQC), comprising a single server using just 3.5in of rack space, and then connected it to the Grand Forks networks to receive inputs from both of the Block 40 mission control elements (MCES) on the airbase.

Deployed following approval from the Global Hawk Program Office, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the virtual CIP is designed to handle dual simultaneous data streams and output imagery in up to ten different locations.

The USAF conducted a Block 40 test flight in late May 2013, during which the imagery was successfully displayed on a workstation inside one of the MCEs, allowing sensor operators to view the collected data in real-time.

The flight test completed a Phase 1 effort of demonstrating the IQC’s effectiveness in supporting Global Hawk UAS during daily operations.

"The data dissemination allows for the underlay of SAR data with the drone’s ground moving target indications data."

A planned Phase 2 expansion was then implemented in October of the same year that facilitates the distribution of Block 40 synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery within the Global Hawk enclave.

The data dissemination allows for the underlay of SAR data with the drone’s ground moving target indications data, thereby offering a multi-intelligence capability to the soldier.

The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAS designed to provide field commanders with high-resolution, near real-time imagery of large geographic areas in support of military, humanitarian and environmental missions.


Image: A RQ-Block 40 Global Hawk UAS stationed at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota, US. Photo: courtesy of USAFStaff Sgt. Luis Loza Gutierrez.

Defence Technology