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Unmanned surveillance aircraft a first for outlying base

HAGATNA, Guam (Marianas Variety, August 10, 2009) – THE image of an unmanned aircraft stealthily flying around the world to perform covert military operations is typically associated with action-packed Hollywood features. This advanced technology will be seen on Guam by summer.Air Force official Lt. Col. Brandon Baker explains the functions of the Global Hawk during a press conference held at AAFB Friday.

Andersen Air Force Base is looking forward to receiving its share of the technology as it prepare for the arrival of the RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft system.

Guam will be the first location outside the continental U.S. to have a Global Hawk unit.

AAFB officials announced Friday that three of the highly sophisticated planes and the personnel who will operate the units are set to arrive on island as early as next summer.

According to Lt. Col. Brandon Baker, the Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft that can be used for intelligence gathering and reconnaissance missions. The Global Hawk, which has a wing span of about 130 feet, is capable of flying up to 391 miles per hour.

Remote pilots are responsible for flying the unmanned aircraft. Pilots on Guam will be responsible for the plane’s liftoff and landing but pilots in California will be responsible for the actual mission control segment of the flight.

Each Global Hawk comes with a $50 million to $80 million price tag and is equipped with state of the art cameras, which can take crystal clear pictures from as high as 60,000 feet, the plane’s average cruising altitude.

While the plane’s cameras cannot capture details such as facial recognition or license plate numbers, Baker said that photographs taken, if seen by a trained professional, can determine as much as the make and model of a car in a parking lot.

"The Global Hawk’s main mission is information gathering," said Baker. "It provides real-time imagery to support manned missions."

The Global Hawk was first deployed to support the global war on terrorism in 2001, and the planes are still being used in Iraq and Afghanistan for surveillance missions.

Baker said the Global Hawk also has the potential to serve the civilian population during humanitarian missions. An RQ-4 Global Hawk model is on exhibit at the Global Hawk hangar at the Andersen Air Force Base.

Baker said that the plane can be used to collect data in the event of a natural disaster such as earthquakes and typhoons.

Baker said that during the 2007 wildfire crisis in California, a Global Hawk was able to take pictures of the fire line, allowing firefighters to see where they should concentrate their manpower in their efforts to put out the fires.

"Firefighters were able to tell if any people were still in areas that should have been evacuated, for example," said Baker. "Without the Global Hawk, that wouldn’t have been possible.

Baker added that because of Guam’s strategic location, the Global Hawk unit and the 90 member crew necessary to operate the aircraft will be permanently based on island.

The first Global Hawk is expected during the summer of 2010, with the additional two arriving in 2012.

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