The US Air Force’s (USAF) RQ-4 Global Hawk high-altitude, long endurance autonomous unmanned aircraft system (UAS) has achieved Milestone C approval from the Defense Acquisition Executive.
This certification will enable the USAF to proceed with the modernisation activity of this Northrop Grumman-built aircraft system.
Northrop Grumman Global Hawk director Mick Jaggers said: "The most important date in any acquisition programme is the day you get a new and needed capability into our warfighter’s hands.
"We have proven that we can successfully take systems like this through Milestone C and into full-rate production, even in times of war."
Prior to this latest approval, the UAS achieved a predetermined level of software maturity and also the capability to perform operational interoperability with other relevant systems.
The Milestone Decision Authority has now approved its updated Acquisition Strategy and Acquisition Program Baseline.
RQ-4 Global Hawk UAS is 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 remotely piloted UAS has been used by the USAF during wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, in addition to supporting intelligence gathering and reconnaissance efforts after the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan.
"It is true testament to the US Air Force and the Global Hawk industry team that we have been able to effectively support the warfighter for over a decade with a variety of sensor payload capabilities," Jaggers added.
"In working with the Air Force, we seek to fly a variety of additional payloads within size, weight, power and communication parameters."
The USAF is expected to increase its RQ-4 fleet size to 37 by 2017.
Image: US Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk on a runway in Palmdale, California. Photo: courtesy of Northrop Grumman Corporation.