Video: RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV crash

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The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aircraft system with an integrated sensor suite that provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR, capability worldwide.

Global Hawk's mission is to provide a broad spectrum of ISR collection capability to support joint combatant forces in worldwide peacetime, contingency and wartime operations. The Global Hawk complements manned and space reconnaissance systems by providing near-real-time coverage using imagery intelligence or IMINT, sensors.

The Global Hawk system consists of the RQ-4 aircraft, mission control element, or MCE, launch and recovery element, or LRE, sensors, communication links, support element and trained personnel. The IMINT sensors include synthetic aperture radar, electro-optical and medium-wave infrared sensors. The system offers a wide variety of employment options. The long range and endurance of this system allow tremendous flexibility in meeting mission requirements.

The Global Hawk will eventually carry the airborne signals intelligence payload. One version of Global Hawk will carry the Radar Technology Insertion Program active electronically scanned array radar.

Global Hawk began as an Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration in 1995. The system was determined to have military utility and provide warfighters with a high-altitude, long-endurance ISR capability. While still a developmental system, Global Hawk deployed operationally to support the global war on terrorism in November 2001.

In the RQ-4 name, the "R" is the Department of Defense designation for reconnaissance and "Q" means unmanned aircraft system. The "4" refers to the series of purpose-built remotely piloted aircraft systems.

The Global Hawk UAS provides near-continuous all-weather, day/night, wide area surveillance and will eventually replace the U-2.

More than half of the seven prototypes of the unmanned Global Hawk - a central plank of the new $50 billion defence spending plan - have been damaged or destroyed through technical failure or misadventure.

The Global Hawk disasters include one lost after a bolt was installed backwards during servicing. A second plane was lost after accidentally picking up a self-destruct signal that was designed to bring down a nearby missile.

A third was lost through engine failure, and a fourth was damaged after crashing when its US military handler made a typing error on a computer control pad.

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