Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft have surpassed 200,000 flight hours, many of which were accumulated in direct support of US combat operations, its manufacturer Northrop Grumman announced. The Air Force’s RQ-4s accounted for 88 percent of those hours, with the rest produced by the Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance aircraft program, NASA’s Global Hawk, and Germany’s demonstrator. Able to fly above 60,000 feet and stay aloft for more than 30 hours, the jet-powered Global Hawk is able to survey thousands of square miles with a variety of sensors and provide near real-time imagery on moving or stationary targets on land and water. RQ-4 prototypes were put into service in the Central Command region immediately after the 9/11 terrorists attacks and both the Air Force and Navy variants have continued in that service. In addition to its ISR support in combat, Global Hawks have been used in humanitarian missions globally, during Southern California wildfires, the Japanese tsunami, the Haitian earthquake, and the Philippines’ typhoon. NASA’s Global Hawk monitors environmental changes, tropical storm developments, and contributes to high-altitude atmospheric research.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.