Last week I flew down to LA to attend a product briefing from one of our new clients, Northrop Grumman. In addition to providing almost half of the equipment on NATO’s next generation fighter, the F35, the company also produces a product called Global Hawk.
Global Hawk is an unmanned, unarmed, surveillance aircraft that flies at 60 thousand feet. This is well above commercial air traffic and out of the jet stream that wreak havoc with the UAVs that fly at lower altitudes. The Global Hawk’s surveillance capabilities include infrared imaging and high resolution photography that allow it to observe even the smallest objects under varying weather conditions.
From a military application standpoint, the product is designed to work with satellites and manned aircraft. The satellites identify objects of interest and relay the information to the Global Hawk ground pilots who can fly the UAV to take a close look. Global Hawk is capable of remaining in the air for over 36 hours without refueling and can take many flight passes in order to identify a target.
Global Hawk’s versatility saves the department of national defense the expense of sending its F18s, and soon one of its F35s, to undertake this type of surveillance. The Global Hawk operating costs are a fraction of manned aircraft. Fighters can be scrambled only when there is a need for reconnaissance or a need for some sovereignty protection.
In addition to the military uses of the Global Hawk, Northrop Grumman recently sold three vehicles to NASA. While I was at the Edwards Air Force Base in California, we were invited to a NASA briefing on the civilian uses of The Global Hawk. NASA has been using the vehicle to study weather patterns particularly during the Atlantic hurricane seasons. On one of its first spring missions a Global Hawk was sent into the Alaskan Arctic air space. Guess what they saw? A giant plume of smoke and ash wafting over from China. The Chinese have been building enormous coal power plants since the late 1900s when the polar ice caps began to retreat in earnest. Scientists were speculating that the particulates eventually drop on the polar ice cap. They speculated that maybe this is the reason why the ice is no longer reflecting the sun’s rays, resulting in the melting. Indeed, it is interesting that the most significant deterioration is in the Western Arctic, closer to China!
Although scientists are just beginning to study this, the information could be highly significant and may point to pollution as the major culprit of the ice caps melting and not greenhouse gases which are usually blamed for global warming.
The point is we would never have detected this situation unless a civilian agency with the capability to fly 20 thousand feet above the jet streams had the mandate to study weather patterns. The capability of the Global Hawk makes me wonder whether the Canadian Military and space agency should be looking at acquiring this product as well.
Would seem like an appropriate thing to do in my books!