Connecting Eyes In The Sky To Boots On The Ground
by Airman 1st Class Tristan Viglianco
May 21, 2018
The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a remotely piloted high-altitude intelligence gathering aircraft capable of flying more than 30 hours straight. The ability to remotely pilot the aircraft is made possible by a unique group of maintainers in the 9th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, known as the 9th Aircraft Communications Maintenance Unit.
An U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk logs over 20,000 flight hours February 13, 2018 at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates. The 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. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class D. Blake Browning)
According to Staff Sgt. John Brummett, 9th ACMU ground communication segment maintenance NCO, there are two sides of the shop, the maintenance side and the network side, both of which are vital to the success of the mission.
“The network portion ensures all the imagery and data coming into the shelter is passed along,” he said. “The maintenance side generates the cockpit and makes sure all the processes can reach the pilot of the Global Hawk.”
In order to generate the cockpit, the Airmen must ensure all of the communication equipment and the Mission Control Element are functioning properly.
“We maintain the data links connecting the ground segment with the aircraft,” said Senior Airman Adrian Santos, 9th ACMU ground communication segment technician. “This entails maintaining the computer systems in the MCEs, maintaining the cabling which connects the MCE with our antennas, and maintaining the data link, which connects the antenna to the satellite and forwards it to the aircraft.”
Santos said they also work inside the MCEs while real-world missions are being flown and that their role is to ensure the operators have control of the aircraft while gathering intelligence.
The data collected during the intelligence gathering process depends on the network technician’s infrastructure here.
“The RQ-4 connects to the MCEs using our network backbone. We also run the Global Hawk Enterprise Service Network in which all the data flows over,” said Airman 1st Class Daniel Jump, 9th ACMU network technician. “In addition, we have servers where imagery collected by the sensor operators is stored.”
Transmitting the data to the Distributed Control Ground System on base also falls on the 9th ACMU.
“We are like the middle man between the pilots and sensor operations and the intelligence community at the DCGS,” said Jump. “We work with the DCGS so they can receive data and imagery and be prepared to exploit it.”
The intelligence is also relayed to commanders in theater so they can make decisions.
“We provide near real-time intelligence to the warfighter,” said Brummett. “All of the imagery being actively taken is collected in the shelter and we are pushing it out to our clients, so the combatant commander can receive it in near real-time.”
The 9th ACMU Airmen realize the unique opportunity their mission provides and appreciate the greater perspective it affords them.
“It is a humbling feeling being out here because our job directly affects the sorties being flown and the missions being completed. We understand that doing our jobs enables us to fly real world missions and collect information which helps us accomplish tasks we need to,” said Santos. “You can’t launch an airstrike without knowing what you're going into and that is what we provide with our high-altitude intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.”