POINT MUGU, Calif. - The Navy's Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD) system successfully completed its first Navy deployment at Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC), Point Mugu. The unmanned aircraft system provides high-resolution, near real-time imagery and other sensor data for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), operating at 60,000 feet, much higher than any other operational unmanned aircraft.
After more than a year of planning, the unique looking aircraft arrived at NBVC on May 29, traveling 3,400 miles from Naval Air Station Patuxent River. It was supported out of hangar 324. A team of military, civilian and contractor personnel from Pax River, Point Mugu's Naval Air Weapons Division (NAVAIR WD), and NBVC Air Operations Department worked together to deploy the aircraft in two Fleet exercises: Trident Warrior '08 and Rim of Pacific. NAVAIR WD personnel at Mugu coordinated the forward logistics for the deployment with the Pax River GHMD team.
Careful consideration was given as to where to send the Global Hawk for its first naval deployment. Point Mugu was selected primarily for its location and favorable airspace conditions. Mugu's proximity to Third Fleet's operating area for the two exercises was also a factor. Lt. Cmdr. John Tracey, Air Test and Evaluation Squadron VX-20 Det. officer in charge, liked the ease of getting in and out of the airfield.
"We can fly straight out of here to Hawaii," he noted. "There is less air traffic in the sky here than at Pax, making it a friendly UAV environment. Encroachment is not an issue here."
The large restricted and warning areas of Point Mugu's airfield played a major part in the selection of Mugu. For this deployment GHMD was operating under the Navy's first Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization for the West Coast unmanned operations as well as for the transcontinental unmanned operations needed to get from Maryland to California.
"The restricted airspace is more favorable than having to cross through FAA infrastructure," explained Dave Seagle, GHMD program lead for the Persistent Maritime Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (PMA-262) at NAS Patuxent River, Md. "Part of this training mission was to exercise our FAA West Coast certificate of authorization. For the unmanned aircraft to operate outside restricted airspace, we had to petition the FAA and undergo a fairly long extensive review system for the West Coast."
Agreeing with that assessment is Cmdr. Charles Huff, NBVC's Operations Officer. Global Hawk is the wave of the future, he said, and it's exciting that NBVC's unique geography work in and out of here with ease.
"They can fly right out into restricted airspace, giving them the ability to operate without complications from civilian air traffic," Huff noted. "They were extremely pleased with everything air traffic control and air ops did to support their mission."
The deployment at Mugu was a "clean sweep" said Seagle. The team met every objective with a 100 percent sortie rate and more than 216 flight hours. GHMD's main purpose in participating in the two exercises was to increase situational awareness in a maritime domain environment. They learned how operational units could use this asset and what commands would gain from its use.
"We introduced a persistent ISR capability into the Third Fleet," Seagle said. "We got a lot of positive feedback."
They also added another first to their mission achievements by providing critical support to the efforts to contain hundreds of wildfires along the California coast. On June 25, U.S. Northern Command headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., requested GHMD assistance in providing near-real time infrared imagery in support of firefighting efforts.
Global Hawk patrolled from the coastline, from the Oregon border to south of San Francisco, taking images of the fires. The UAS demonstrated its flexibility and persistence by providing critically needed imagery to firefighters. GHMD flew more than 23 hours June 27-28 and collected more than 500 images for local fire officials.
Important lessons learned were gleaned from the firefighting support.
"We discovered how much lead time we need to get ready for a short notice mission," Tracey said. "All images from the GHMD are classified. We honed our skill sets to include the declassification process for humanitarian missions such as this."
"The flexibility of the GHMD team to rapidly shift gears from a planned maritime mission to a domestic humanitarian mission surpassed many expectations, by responding so quickly and providing high resolution images for the firefighting commanders," said Seagle, "GHMD's capabilities and versatility to support this mission may have ultimately helped save lives and homes, and that is extremely gratifying to our GHMD team."
The team of military and contractor personnel was "fantastic" stated Tracey. They worked well with each other and that cohesion made things run smoothly. "Lt. Cmdr. Keith Shipman (NBVC Air Operations) and his crew took care of a lot of things to make it easier for us," Tracey noted.
NBVC Air Ops coordinated all airport services and airspace procedures with the FAA for the Global Hawk, noted Lt. Cmdr. Shipman.
"We ensured it was a safe evolution for Global Hawk from the airfield, to the warning area to national airspace and back," he said. "I had a specific crew assigned to GH to provide assistance for whatever they needed."
That assistance also included opening up the airfield after hours. Global Hawk flew 14 sorties (or 28 evolutions up and back). Seventy percent of those were done in the early morning hours between 1-5 a.m.