Murphy's Law: The Sad Death Of Euro Hawk

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May 22, 2013: After spending over $700 million and a decade of development effort, Germany has cancelled plans to buy five American Global Hawk UAVs. Called the Euro Hawk, this German version was to be equipped with European electronics and serve as a long endurance recon aircraft. The problem was that European aviation authorities demanded extensive tests to ensure that the unmanned Euro Hawk could coexist with manned aircraft in European air space. It was determined that this process would cost over $800 million and there was no guarantee the UAV would be cleared to operate. The $300 million spent on the UAV sensors will not be lost, as these can be mounted on a manned aircraft.

This bureaucratic obstacle was not expected. Three years ago the "Eurohawk” RQ-4 UAV made its maiden flight in the United States and then the problems began. This first Euro Hawk was delayed (by over a year) flying to Europe because European aviation authorities became alarmed at the danger of UAVs flying in the same air space with manned aircraft. The aviation regulators had to be convinced that the RQ-4 could be brought safely through U.S., British, and German air space. It was delivered to Germany in 2011, but has been grounded because of local aviation authorities concerns over flight safety.

Five Euro Hawks were ordered six years ago for $215 million each (half that is development cost). All five were to be delivered by 2017. These UAVs were to replace the German Atlantic 1150 Electronic Reconnaissance (ELINT) aircraft.

Ten 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 turned it into what they are calling Euro Hawk. European aviation safety authorities noticed also and eventually piled on demands and regulations that killed Euro Hawk.

Euro Hawk could stay in the air for up to 30 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 Euro Hawk used electronics supplied by European manufacturers who must now find a manned aircraft to mount them in.

Germany got the B version of Global Hawk, 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 kilometers (60,000 feet), to get a sharp picture of all the territory it can see from that altitude. Germany was equipping Euro Hawk with signals intelligence equipment, that collects electronic signals, and less imaging equipment.

 


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