Northrop Grumman in February demonstrated its Universal Payload Adapter by flying two flights with a Senior Year Electro-Optical Reconnaissance System (SYERS)-2 intelligence gathering sensor strapped to a Block 30 Global Hawk, a move toward creating one fleet of the unmanned aircraft to carry any sensor the Air Force needs. Northrop Grumman began development of the adapter in 2013 to move away from individual “block” versions of the massive drone, and take over the entire high-altitude intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission by being able to fly with the sensors used on the U-2. Northrop has developed a 17-point system on the belly of a Global Hawk where specially created adapters would be able to attach several different sensor types, according to a demonstration of the adapter at AWS16. The company flew its first flight with a model sensor in December, and in February flew two missions with the SYERS-2 sensor suite out of its Palmdale, Calif., facility, said Mick Jaggers, Northrop’s vice president and program manager for Global Hawk unmanned system programs. The company plans to fly with the Optical Bar Camera, which is used by the U-2, and an MS-177 multi-spectral sensor later this year. Northrop is negotiating with the Air Force on the way forward to install the adapter to all 18 Block 30 Global Hawks in the service’s fleet and hopes to eventually move on to other models of the drone. The process would take between one to two months, though the biggest issue going forward is the operational demand on the Global Hawk fleet and the need for almost every aircraft to be available for missions, Jaggers said.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.