Electronic Weapons: EuroHawk Hears All

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October 20, 2011: A year after delivery and first flight, the first German "EuroHawk" RQ-4 UAV is ready for service, and will be sent into action early next year. All this is four years after five of the UAVs were ordered, for $215 million each (half that is development cost). All five will be delivered by 2017. These UAVs will replace the German Atlantic 1150 Electronic Reconnaissance (ELINT) aircraft. The Atlantic 1150 is a twin-engine turboprop aircraft that carries a crew of ten and can stay in the air for about 18 hours per sortie. EuroHawk can stay in the air twice as long, and the electronic sensors pick up just about everything, which is quickly analyzed by people and equipment at the other end of the satellite link. EuroHawk does have some vidcams, but mainly to support the identification of transmitters.

Eight years ago, an American RQ-4A was equipped with electronic eavesdropping equipment and flown to Germany for demonstration flights. The Germans were impressed enough to design modifications for the Global Hawk, which will turn it into what they are calling EuroHawk. Germany equipped their EuroHawk with a ton of electronic sensors, capable of detecting and recording a wide array of radar and data transmissions.

EuroHawk can stay in the air for up to 40 hours at a time and would be cheaper to operate than a manned recon aircraft. Germany's Atlantic 1150 aircraft are being retired mainly because they are too old and expensive to maintain. The EuroHawk will use electronics supplied by European manufacturers. The U.S. Air Force is currently paying $130 million each for Global Hawks, with recon equipment included.

Germany will be getting the B version, which is about ten percent larger (wingspan of 42.3 meters/131 feet, and 15.5 meters/48 feet long) than the A model, and can carry an additional two tons of equipment. To support that, there's a new generator that produces 150 percent more electrical power. The B version is a lot more reliable. Early A models tended to fail and crash at the rate of once every thousand flight hours, mostly because of design flaws. The first three RQ-4Bs entered service in 2006.

At 13 tons, the Global Hawk is the size of a commuter airliner (like the Embraer ERJ 145), but costs more than twice as much. Global Hawk can be equipped with much more powerful, and expensive, sensors, than other UAVs. These more than double the cost of the aircraft. These spy satellite quality sensors (especially AESA radar) are usually worth the expense, because they enable the UAV, flying at over 20,000 meters (60,000 feet), to get a sharp picture of all the territory it can see from that altitude. Germany is equipping EuroHawk with lots of signals intelligence equipment, that collects electronic signals, and less imaging equipment.

So far, eleven German pilots have been trained in the United States to operate the EuroHawk, along with maintenance personnel.

 


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