An RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft is towed back to its hangar following a mission in Southwest Asia. Navy pilots are about to join Air Force pilots in operating the Global Hawk at deployed locations and the first class of Navy pilots is at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., to learn this unmanned aircraft system. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jason Tudor)
A maintainer reviews a post-flight checklist for an RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft following a mission in Southwest Asia. Navy pilots are about to join Air Force pilots in operating the Global Hawk at deployed locations and the first class of Navy pilots is at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., to learn this unmanned aircraft system. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jason Tudor)
11/10/2008 - BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AFNS) -- In what could prove to be the first step toward creating a joint RQ-4 Unmanned Aircraft System training unit here, pilots of the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron are teaching a class of Navy pilots the Global Hawk system.
The class, consisting of three active-duty P-3 Orion pilots and one civilian contractor, came about as a response to the secretary of defense's call to maximize the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability in support of the war on terrorism.
Navy officials are looking to the Air Force to assist in expediting their pending RQ-4 Global Hawk deployment, one reason the normally five-month course is being condensed to four.
"This is the initial Navy RQ-4 class, which is on an accelerated course," said Lt. Col. Scott Coon, 1st RS director of operations. "They are getting top priority. We bumped our regularly scheduled October class back by one month in order to fit the Navy pilots in."
Navy officials, who currently don't have a Global Hawk training program, will use the training Beale pilots provide to install their own Global Hawk presence in the Central Command area of operations by next year.
Based on the experience Beale aircrews have in training pilots to employ the Global Hawk, Colonel Coon said the 9th Reconnaissance Wing was a natural choice for the Navy when it came to deciding on where to send their pilots for training.
With more than 20,000 RQ-4 combat flying hours, Beale Airmen have racked up 75 percent of the total Global Hawk flying hours since the program's inception in 1998.
"We have trained our coalition partners," Colonel Coon said. "Now we are training our joint brethren to rapidly employ combat capability into the fight. Beale is postured to be a joint, interagency and multinational training base for high altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance UASs."
More than 100 U.S., Australian and German pilots have been trained to fly the Global Hawk, with more becoming mission-qualified every month at a rate that has doubled in the last year, according to Colonel Coon.
"They (the Navy) want to take advantage of our years of experience, the mistakes we've made and the lessons we've learned and incorporate them into their own training program," he said. "After this class graduates, they can do one of two things; they can continue to have us train their pilots until they grow enough experience to establish their own training program, or we can work together to establish a joint training program."
In addition to providing pilot training for the Navy's new Global Hawk deployment, Beale's 9th RW Airmen will support their maritime Global Hawk mission until Naval personnel are fully trained to take over next year.
"We can launch and recover their Global Hawks using our Launch and Recovery Element and maintainers, but they'll still need to provide their own version of our Mission Control Element," explained Colonel Coon, adding that while the Air Force and Navy MCEs differ due to the software loads supporting the imagery sensors, taking off and landing is the same no matter what mission platform is used.
The RQ-4 Global Hawk, the Navy's choice for the service's unmanned aircraft system, is slated for testing in the AOR with their new Broad Area Maritime Surveillance platform. Eventually, Navy officials plan to use the RQ-4 and the P-8A Poseidon aircraft to replace the P-3 Orion, which is a large, four engine aircraft used for anti-submarine warfare, maritime patrol and reconnaissance.
"We are training to be fully mission-qualified in the RQ-4 Block 10's, of which the Navy owns two," said Navy Lt. Mike Anderson, a Global Hawk student. "In the spring, we are going to deploy those Global Hawks, and with Navy pilots behind the wheel, we're going to test the Global Hawks with some maritime missions."
The Navy's two contractor-operated Global Hawk Maritime Demonstrator RQ-4s are currently flown out of Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md.
While focused on assisting the Navy deployment, Colonel Coon stated that hosting the first class of Navy pilots may prove to be the first step toward creating a joint training environment. He added that if a formal joint training unit were to happen, it would inevitably become a mix of Navy and Air Force instructors.
Currently Vance Air Force Base, Okla., is the Air Force's only joint specialized undergraduate pilot training base, with more than 400 Air Force, Navy and Marine pilots. Although it wouldn't be the first time Airmen have worked with personnel in other branches of service for joint training, it would be a first at Beale.
"I think it's a great step forward in getting a joint environment," said Colonel Coon. "There's no reason for the Navy to spend the time and effort to do what we've already done. It would be an expensive endeavor to catch up to where we are in the program. A joint approach seems to make sense in this situation."