Raytheon Company has received a contract to maintain and modernise both hardware and software of the ground control systems and onboard sensors used by the US Air Force (USAF) fleet of RQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft.

As part of the contract, the company will deploy sustainment and cybersecurity experts around the world to deliver the support services. The scope of work includes the provision of software upgrades to defend against cyber threats.

Raytheon IIS Mission Support and Modernization vice-president Todd Probert told Air Force Technology: “Every connected system is a potential vector for a cyber-attack. Just as consumers get security updates for their phones and computers, Raytheon constantly provides cybersecurity upgrades to military systems like the Global Hawk ground control station to secure them against this constantly evolving threat.”

The contract, which will be delivered by Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services, is part of a $65m subcontract from Northrop Grumman.

In August 2016, Raytheon obtained a $104m contract to modernise the Global Hawk ground segment.

The contract involved moving payload and aircraft operators into mission control buildings. The new mission control stations at Beale and Grand Forks Air Force Bases replaced the existing, shelter-based, mission control and launch and recovery elements.

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“Every connected system is a potential vector for a cyber-attack.”

Probert said: “Raytheon will help these unmanned aircraft meet tomorrow’s threats. We have been improving the Global Hawk fleet’s capabilities for 20 years by modernising their ground and sensor systems and will now ensure their resiliency in the face of cyber threats.”

The Northrop Grumman-built Global Hawk is used to gather a variety of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data.

Northrop stated that the modernisation will lead to an improved command and control capacity across all sensors and missions.

In active operation with the USAF since 2001, Global Hawk is capable of flying at altitudes up to 60,000ft for more than 30 hours continuously. It is powered by a Rolls-Royce AE 3007 turbofan engine.

The RQ-4 fleet carries out a range of missions including near real-time imagery, signals intelligence, airborne communications gateway and tactical networking.

–Additional reporting by Talal Husseini.