RQ-4 Global Hawk & MQ-4C Triton

Product Type:

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)

Using Service (US):

Air Force (RQ-4B) and Navy (MQ-4C)

Program Status:

In Production (NATO AGS & Navy MQ-4C)

Prime Contractor:

Northrop Grumman Corporation

The RQ-4 Global Hawk

About the RQ-4B & MQ-4C:

The Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) UAV/UAS. The Global hawk is powered by a single Rolls-Royce AE 3007H (military desig-nation is F137-RR-100) Turbofan engine with 8,600 pounds of thrust.

Cruising at extremely high altitudes of up to 65,000 feet (19,800 meters), the RQ-4 can survey large geographic areas with pinpoint accuracy, providing real-time information about the location of the enemy as well as resources and personnel. When mission parameters are programmed into the Global Hawk, it can autonomously taxi, take off, fly, remain on station, return, and land. No actual remotely piloted flying takes place. Ground-based operators monitor the RQ-4's health and status, and can alter navigation and sensor plans during flight when necessary.

The now retired RQ-4A was an imagery-intelligence (IMINT) UAS designed to carry a 2,000 pound payload. The RQ-4A has one configuration - the Block 10. The Block 10 employs an IMINT system comprised of a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) sensor and an EO / IR sensor. In 2011, the last of seven RQ-4As was retired from the Air Force inventory. The RQ-4B, the successor to the RQ-4A, is designed to carry 3,000 pounds of payload and enable multi-intelligence (multi-INT) collecting. The RQ-4B has three configurations: Block 20, Block 30, and Block 40. The Block 20 employs upgraded SAR and EO/IR sensors in an IMINT-only configuration, however, four Block 20 aircraft were subsequently converted to EQ-4B communication relay platforms (three still active), carrying the Battlefield Airborne Communication Node (BACN) payload. The Block 30 employs the same SAR and EO/IR sensors as the Block 20 and integrates a wide spectrum signals intelligence (SIGINT) sensor, the Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload (ASIP). SAR, EO/IR and ASIP are used simultaneously to create a multi-INT platform. Eighteen Block 30 UAS are currently fielded. The Global Hawk Block 40 is equipped with the multi-platform radar technology insertion program (MP-RTIP) Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, which provides wide-area surveillance of stationary and moving targets. The MP-RTIP sensor allows military commanders to gather near real-time imagery of moving targets. Eleven Block 40 UAS are currently fielded. Block 40 Initial Operational Capability (IOC) is projected for 2015. In 2014, an RQ-4 Block 40 flew for 34.3 hours, setting a new endurance record for longest unrefueled flight by a U.S. Air Force aircraft.

The Global Hawk ground segment includes the mission control element (MCE) and the launch and recovery element (LRE). The support segment includes aerospace ground equipment, tech orders, spares, support equipment, and training to enable operation of the Global Hawk UAS.

The Global Hawk is operated by the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron at Beale Air Force Base (AFB) in California, and the 348th Reconnaissance Squadron at Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota, but aircraft are rotated to operational detachments worldwide.

With regard to specific sensors and systems, the Global Hawk is equipped with a Hughes Integrated Surveillance & Reconnaissance (HISAR) sensor system. HISAR is a lower-cost derivative of Raytheon's ASARS-2 package, which Hughes Electronics (now part of Raytheon) developed for the Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady spyplane. The Global Hawk is also equipped with the Raytheon AN/ALR-89 self-protection suite, which consists of the AN/ALR-90 pulsed Radar Warning Receiver (RWR), the AN/AVR-3 Laser Warning System, AN/APR-49 Radar Warning Receiver, a jamming system, and the AN/ALE-50 towed decoy.

Major RQ-4 Global Hawk subcontractors are Aurora Flight Sciences (V-tail assembly and other composite structures), L-3 Communications (communication system), Raytheon Company (Hughes Integrated Surveillance & Reconnaissance (HISAR) system and ground station), Rolls-Royce (AE3007 turbofan engine), Héroux-Devtek (aircraft landing gear), and Triumph Group-Vought Aircraft (carbon fiber composite wing).

The Global Hawk traces its origins back to the 1995 High-Altitude Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration (HAE UAV ACTD) program initiated by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Defense Airborne Reconnaissance Office (DARO). The Global Hawk flew for the first time at Edwards Air Force Base in California on February 28, 1998.

As of March 2014, a total of 42 Global Hawks are currently in use around the world with 32 in the Air Force inventory. In the U.S., the Global Hawk program has exceeded 109,000 flight hours. The cost per flight hour has declined significantly as the system has matured.

In its FY 2015 budget, the Air Force moved to retire the U-2 Dragon Lady (with retirements commencing in FY 2016) in favor of the Global Hawk. This decision faced resistance from Congress and the planned retirement has been postponed until the FY 2019/20 timeframe. The U-2's retirement would save $2.2 billion, however, $1.9 billion will have to be spent on capability improvements for the Global Hawk to upgrade it to parity with the U-2.

On December 17, 2014, Northrop Grumman was awarded a $657 million foreign military sales (FMS) contract to provide South Korea with a fleet of four RQ-4B Block 30 Global Hawks to be delivered by June 2019.

On June 4, 2015, the first Global Hawk-based Alliance Ground Surveillance NATO AGS aircraft was unveiled. The NATO AGS is able to fly for up to 30 hours at a time and will provide NATO leaders with persistent global situational awareness. The NATO-owned and operated program comprises five air vehicles and fixed, mobile and transportable ground stations. Northrop Grumman's industrial team includes Airbus Defence and Space (Germany), Selex ES (Italy), and Kongsberg (Norway). The industries of the 15 participating NATO AGS nations (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United States), are each contributing to the delivery of the AGS system.

U.S. Navy MQ-4C Triton:

The Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton is a maritime derivative of the RQ-4B Global Hawk and the airborne element of the U.S. Navy's Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Unmanned Aircraft System (BAMS UAS). The Triton will provide persistent maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and has a mission radius of 2,000 nm (3,700 km). The MQ-4C flies at a maximum altitude 56,500 feet (17 km) and can stay aloft for up to 24 hrs. Other missions to be performed by the MQ-4C are support strike, signals intelligence (SIGINT), and communications relay. The MQ-4C will replace the EP-3E ARIES II and take over the SIGINT mission, while the P-8A Poseidon replaces the P-3C Orion's ASW, ASuW, and ISR missions. In the ISR role, the MQ-4C will complement the P-8A.

The MQ-4C is equipped with multiple payloads for ISR, maritime SAR and inverse SAR. The aircraft is equipped with a Northrop Grumman Multi-Function Active Sensor Active Electronically Steered Array (MFAS AESA) radar with maritime and air-to-ground modes and long-range detection and classification of targets; an MTS-B electro optical/infrared (EO/IR) multi-spectral targeting system w/full motion video and high resolution imagery at multiple field-of-views and auto-target tracking; an automatic identification system (AIS) which provides information received from VHF broadcasts on maritime vessel movements; a basic communications relay capability; and the AN/ZLQ-1 Electronic Support Measures (ESM) package.

In March 2014, the Triton completed its initial test flight program. The tests which commenced in May 2013 included 13 flights with a total of 81 flight hours at altitudes up to 59,950 feet. The Triton is expected to enter into service in 2017.

On April 22, 2008, Northrop Grumman was awarded a cost-plus award-fee contract with an estimated value of $1.16 billion for the system development and demonstration (SDD) phase of the BAMS UAS.

The Navy plans to purchase 65 MQ-4C production units through FY 2028 beginning with the first four aircraft in FY 2016.



Price/Unit Cost:

The unit cost of the Navy's MQ-4C Triton is projected at $122.99 million in FY 2016 when purchases begin (flyaway cost).

RQ-4 - Total Cost - Life of Program (LoP):

The total procurement cost of the RQ-4 Global Hawk program is $5.22 billion (official DoD estimate) + $3.78 billion in research and development (RDT&E) funds, which means the total estimated program cost is $9.00 billion (numbers are aggregated annual funds spent over the life of the program and no price/inflation adjustment was made). This figure excludes military construction (MILCON) costs in support of the program in the amount of $122.9 million.

MQ-4C - Total Cost - Life of Program (LoP):

The total procurement cost of the MQ-4C Triton program is $11.29 billion (estimated by the DoD) + $3.73 billion in research and development (RDT&E) funds, which means the total estimated program cost is $15.02 billion (numbers are aggregated annual funds spent over the life of the program and no price/inflation adjustment was made). This figure excludes military construction (MILCON) costs in support of the program in the amount of $342.7 million.


The Air Force RQ-4 performs high-altitude, near-real-time, high-resolution Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) collection while the Navy MQ-4C Triton provides persistent maritime ISR to combatant commanders from five orbits worldwide.

FY 2015 DoD Program:

FY 2015 funds USAF development efforts for the RQ-4 Block 30, Block 40, ground stations, and Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion programs; the U.S. contribution to the NATO AGS; and the Navy MQ-4C Triton Engineering and Manufacturing Development effort and advance procurement for three planned Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) UAS in FY 2016.

FY 2016 DoD Program:

FY 2015 funds the development and modification efforts for the RQ-4 Block 30, Block 40, ground stations, and Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion programs; and the U.S. contribution to the NATO AGS. FY 15 also continues MQ-4C Engineering and Manufacturing Development efforts; and, procures three LRIP aircraft for the Navy at a cost of $548.8 million.

For more information, please view DoD budget data below.

Source: U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Northrop Grumman Corp.,
and Rolls-Royce plc.

Specifications Armament DoD Spending FY2016 Budget

Last Update: June 8, 2015.

By Joakim Kasper Oestergaard Balle /// (jkasper@bga-aeroweb.com)

External Resources:

Northrop Grumman: RQ-4B Global Hawk
Northrop Grumman: MQ-4C Triton (BAMS)
Northrop Grumman: NATO AGS
Northrop Grumman: NASA Global Hawk
Northrop Grumman: Euro Hawk

YouTube: RQ-4 Global Hawk on YouTube
YouTube: MQ-4C Triton on YouTube

Fact Sheet: RQ-4 Global Hawk Fact Sheet
Fact Sheet: MQ-4C Triton Fact Sheet

Total RQ-4 Program Cost:

 $9.00 billion  ($5.22B procurement + $3.78B RDT&E)

RQ-4 Procurement Objective:

  45 aircraft  objective completed

Total MQ-4C Program Cost:

 $15.02 billion  ($11.29B procurement + $3.73B RDT&E)

MQ-4C Procurement Objective:

  70 aircraft  (65 production + 5 development)

RQ-4/MQ-4 U.S. Defense Budget Charts:

DoD Spending on the RQ-4 Global Hawk in FY 2012, FY 2013, FY 2014, FY 2015 and FY 2016
DoD Purchases of RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs in FY 2012, FY 2013, FY 2014, FY 2015 and FY 2016
Defense Budget Data

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DoD Spending, Procurement and RDT&E: FY 2012/13/14 + Budget for FYs 2015 + 2016

DoD Defense Spending, Procurement, Modifications, Spares, and RDT&E for the RQ-4 Global Hawk / MQ-4C Triton programs

Download Official U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Budget Data:

Purchases of RQ-4 Block 40 Aircraft (USAF) Purchases of MQ-4C Aircraft (NAVY) RDT&E: RQ-4 UAV (USAF)
Purchases of RQ-4 Aircraft (USAF) RDT&E: MQ-4C TRITON (NAVY) RDT&E: NATO AGS (USAF)
RQ-4 Aircraft Modifications (USAF) RDT&E: MQ-4 Modernization (NAVY)

Aircraft Specifications: RQ-4 Global Hawk & MQ-4C Triton

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Specifications | RQ-4 Block 10 (RQ-4A) and Blocks 20-40 (RQ-4B)

Primary function: High-altitude long-endurance ISR
Prime Contractor: Northrop Grumman Corp.
Power Plant: 1x Rolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan engine (F137-RR-100)
Thrust: 8,600 pounds
Wingspan: RQ-4A: 116 ft (35.3 m); RQ-4B: 130.9 ft (39.8 m)
Length: RQ-4A: 44 ft (13.4 m); RQ-4B: 47.6 ft (14.5 m)
Height: RQ-4A: 15.2 ft (4.6 m); RQ-4B: 15.3 ft (4.7 m)
Weight (Empty): RQ-4A: 11,350 lbs (5,150 kg); RQ-4B: 14,950 lbs (6,780 kg)
Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW): RQ-4A: 26,750 lbs (12,130 kg); RQ-4B: 32,250 lbs (14,630 kg)
Payload: RQ-4A: 2,000 lbs (907 kg); RQ-4B: 3,000 lbs (1,360 kg)
Fuel Capacity: RQ-4A: 15,400 lbs (6,990 kg); RQ-4B: 17,300 lbs (7,850 kg)
Speed: RQ-4A: 340 kts/391 mph (630 km/h); RQ-4B: 310 kts/357 mph (574 km/h)
Service Ceiling: 65,000 ft (19,810 m)
Range: RQ-4A: 9,500 nm/10,930 miles (17,600 km); RQ-4B: 8,700 nm/10,010 miles (16,120 km)
Endurance: 36 hours (24 hours time on station)
Armament: None
Crew (remote): Three (LRE pilot, MCE pilot, and sensor operator)
Price/Unit Cost: RQ-4A Block 10: $46.4 million; RQ-4B Block 20: $54.5 million;
RQ-4B Block 30: $72.6 million; RQ-4B Block 40: $80.0 million
First Flight: February 28, 1998 RQ-4A; RQ-4B Block 20: March 1, 2007
Deployed: RQ-4A Block 10: April 2000; RQ-4B Block 30: FY2011; RQ-4B Block 40: FY2014
Inventory (U.S. Air Force):
Total: 27 /// Active: 27, ANG: 0; Reserve: 0 (as of September 2012) - All RQ-4B
Total: 25 /// Active: 25, ANG: 0; Reserve: 0 (as of September 2013) - All RQ-4B
Total: 30 /// Active: 30, ANG: 0; Reserve: 0 (as of September 2014) - All RQ-4B

Specifications | MQ-4C Triton

Primary function: Persistent Maritime ISR
Prime Contractor: Northrop Grumman Corp.
Power Plant: 1x Rolls-Royce AE3007H turbofan engine (F137-RR-100)
Thrust: 8,600 pounds
Wingspan: 130.9 ft (39.8 m)
Length: 47.6 ft (14.5 m)
Height: 15.3 ft (4.7 m)
Weight (Empty): 14,950 lbs (6,780 kg)
Maximum Takeoff Weight (MTOW): 32,250 lbs (14,630 kg)
Max. Internal Payload 3,200 lbs (1,452 kg)
Max. External Payload 2,400 lbs (1,089 kg)
Fuel Capacity: 17,300 lbs (7,850 kg)
Speed: 310 kts/357 mph (574 km/h); Max. 331 kts/381 mph (613 km/h)
Service Ceiling: 56,500 ft (17,220 m) (according to Northrop Grumman); 60,000 ft (18,288 m) (according to NAVAIR)
Range: 9,950+ nm/11,450 miles (18,427 km) - maximum unrefueled range
Endurance: 24 hours (according to Northrop Grumman); 30 hours (according to NAVAIR)
Armament: None
Crew (remote): Four per ground station (air vehicle operator, mission commander and 2 sensor operators)
Price/Unit Cost: $122.99 million flyaway cost (projected for FY 2016)
First Flight: May 22, 2013
Deployed: TBD

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