Global Hawk arrives in Sigonella

By Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Coon, Global Hawk Detachment 4, Commanding Officer

U.S. Air Force Global Hawk personnel have finally arrived at NAS Sigonella. After significant program delays left many locals wondering if “unit stand-up” would ever come to fruition, we proved them wrong and are finally here. We truly appreciate the hospitality we have received since putting “boots-on-the-ground.” This is a wonderful community.

[] Officially, our unit is called “9th Operations Group/DETACHMENT 4,” with our parent Wing located at Beale Air Force Base, CA. However, when asked by Navy personnel, “What Command do you belong to?”…we politely say “Global Hawk”…as we are even tongue-tied by the never-ending letters in our official name. “Global Hawk” is much easier to pronounce and recognize.
We have seven people on our team so far. Four additional unit members will arrive by the end of the calendar year. In January 2010, larger groups will begin to arrive, and we’ll top-out at around 100 people by April. Of those, 40 will be Northrop Grumman Contract Logistics Support (CLS) personnel. Don’t worry, because most of them are former military members with years of experience in aircraft maintenance and understand how to integrate into a military community. Their task will be to perform maintenance on our aircraft and ground shelters. To those who aren’t familiar with the RQ-4 Global Hawk, I’ll provide a brief description:

The RQ-4 is a high-altitude, long endurance, (HALE) unmanned aerial reconnaissance system designed to provide military field commanders with high resolution, near-real-time imagery of large geographical areas. It was born in 1994 out of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA), High-Altitude, Long-Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Program (HAE UAV). Since DARPA only participates in “game-changing” technologies, great things were anticipated from the program and it has delivered glowing results so far. The system combines advanced technology sensors with a range that extends more than half way around the world and an ability to remain on station for long periods of time. With no physiological concerns brought about by having a pilot on board, the only limitation for endurance is fuel. Most of our routine missions are around 24 hours long.

These features enable the Global Hawk system to provide the war fighter with essential intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) needed to achieve information dominance throughout the battle space.
When most people think about aviation, they think only of aircraft. However, the RQ-4 is truly a “system of systems” which is made up of the aircraft, a launch and recovery element (LRE), a mission control element (MCE), a variety of high-tech sensors, and the distributed common ground station (DCGS), where imagery exploitation takes place. Without all of these pieces, the overall system would not be able to perform the mission. Another thing most people don’t realize is how large the aircraft is. The wing-span is 131 feet (40 m)…about the same size as a 737. Its takeoff gross weight is about 32,500 lbs (14,600 kg). It also has a 3,000 lb (1,360 kg) payload capacity. The game-changing affect that it brings to the fight is its advertised 36 hour max endurance at over 60,000 ft (18.3 km).
The rumors are already flying about our operation. In fact, an Italian journalist recently reported that five Global Hawks are already on the ramp and flying at Sigonella. That is simply not true. Aircraft delivery is scheduled for sometime between late summer and fall of next year. Eventually, we may fly up to 10 long-duration sorties per week…so basically, there will always be a Global Hawk in the sky supporting multiple COCOM taskings.

Global Hawk represents the future of aviation and our mission at is to provide timely and relevant high-altitude ISR to multiple Combatant Commanders. Again, we are proud to be here and look forward to working with team Sigonella in the future.