Northrop Grumman has been awarded a contract to deliver additional RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to the US Air Force (USAF).
Under the terms of the $354m firm-fixed-price contract, the company will supply three Global Hawks, along with retrofit kits for airborne signals intelligence payload (ASIP) sensors, into two of the existing UAS.
Northrop Grumman Global Hawk programme manager Mick Jaggers said: "These new systems will provide further opportunities to keep our warfighters safe.
"Even as Global Hawk flight hours increase each year, we are striving to reduce the overall operating cost of the system for the air force.
"The air force’s commitment to putting more Global Hawks in the air, and our dedication to meeting affordability agreements for production and sustainment, ensure that this vital asset will remain sustainable and viable for many years."
Equipped with the multi-intelligence (multi-INT) capability, the new drones will increase the air force RQ-4 fleet size to 37 by 2017.
The new aircraft will be capable of carrying sophisticated imaging and electronic signal sensors, which can collect multiple types of intelligence from high altitudes for up to 32 hours.
All RQ-4 UAS fuselages are scheduled to be built at Northrop’s facilities in Moss Point, Mississippi, while final assembly and acceptance testing will take place in Palmdale, US.
Deliveries of ASIP retrofit kits are expected to start in late 2016 and run through to 2017.
Powered by an Allison Rolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan engine, the Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance 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.
The UAS enables commanders to detect moving or stationary targets on the ground, while providing airborne communications and information sharing capabilities to military units in harsh environments.
Different variants of Global Hawk have to date flown more than 126,000 flight hours, supporting diverse missions worldwide.
Image: USAF avionics specialists prepare a Global Hawk for a runway taxi test at Beale Air Force Base, California, US. Photo: courtesy of Stacey Knott.