BAM(s)! The crash of a U.S. Navy Global Hawk in Maryland could be the end of the giant drone.

On Jun. 11, the U.S. Navy announced that one of its nearly 200M USD Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) demonstrator aircraft crashed during a test flight near Bloodworth Island in, Dorchester County, Maryland.

The Navy was quick to point out that no one was injured in the crash and no property was damaged and officials were dispatched to investigate the cause of the crash.

BAMS uses the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk airframe but has a completely different radar and surveillance equipment, or at least it will do once in service.

The Navy acquired 5 Globals Hawks from the now cancelled Air Force program to use as test beds.

The latest crash, one in a long line of setbacks for the Global Hawk, which has already been cancelled by the Air Force sparking an immediate reaction by Northrop Grumman on Social Media, because it did not meet its obligations, does raise the question: does the Navy have the apatite to continue with the type’s development?

If it continues, the BAMS will have a range of some 9,550 miles with an endurance of 24 hours. One of its forward operating bases will be NAS Sigonella, Sicily, Italy, selected to be future’s drone world capital. But the key to its upgraded Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capability is a brand new Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar that has been developed by Northrop.

The interesting thing about this new radar is it combines electronic scanning with mechanical movement, giving the BAMS a 360 degree field of view of anything below it, rather being fixed radar like all other AESA radars are.

Another new feature on BAMS is what the Navy calls an “Due Regard” radar which has been developed by ITT Exelis Inc. which will scan the airspace up to 110 degrees either side of BAMS nose for other aircraft. Something that will be important when the laws for UAV’s flying in civilian airspace with other manned aircraft comes into force during 2015.

Something else that has been mentioned that aviation radio enthusiast that first became aware of during the Air War in Libya during 2011 is that BAMS will have a two way radio meaning the operator can communicate with local Air Traffic Control, along with being fitted with ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast) and TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System).

Considered its unit price and previous failures, is this the final nail in the coffin for Global Hawk?

At the moment it’s too early to say but it does look if the giant Navy drone is on borrowed time.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force


  1. I saw a speech by the Assistant SECNAV Bib Work where he cited the P-8/BAMS combo as a reason why the USN could drop fleet size to 280 ships. There’s a lot of debate about fleet size lately, so this Administration is pretty invested in making BAMS work. One crash won’t kill it. The AF just decided to keep the U-2 going. Navy would have to increase P-8 fleet size or keep some P-3s going. Dont think thats an option here.

  2. Do you know anything of how this interacts with the european endeavour – Eurohawk? The airframe is supposed to be the same while the sensors are to be replaced by european make.

  3. “…, rather being fixed radar like all other AESA radars are.”

    Do you mean SeaSpray 5000E/7000E/7500E and Sampson are just a fraud? Even if you did mean to write about only airborne radars, the SeaSpray family is just that.

  4. Some clarifications: The BAMS-D that crashed was a $40M aircraft, not $200M, and in fact could be argued to be worth a lot less, since the Air Force had already retired the aircraft from active service before the Navy picked it up and returned it to service. The Navy acquired 3 surplus RQ-4As from the USAF, not 5; they already had two RQ-4Ns that they had bought for the GHMD program which morphed into the BAMS-D program. The Air Force Global Hawk program that the three were surplused from was NOT the “cancelled” program…that was the Block 30. The Block 30 program is the only one that the AF has proposed cancelling (and the cancellation has not yet been endorsed by Congress, who makes the final decision); the Block 20 EQ-4B and the Block 40 RQ-4B Global Hawks are still going to be operated by the AF no matter what the outcome of the Block 30 decision is. You imply that the two-way radio in BAMS is something new; it’s not, all Global Hawks have that. Given that the Navy is fully committed to 68 MQ-4Cs and the AF is still buying Block 40s, and NATO just bought five AGS versions (based on the Block 40) and Germany is talking about four more EuroHawks, not to mention the proposed Canadian Polar Hawk, I think your “final nail in the coffin” statement is just slightly premature.

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