Connecting ‘Eyes in the Sky’ to Boots on the Ground

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.

Air Force Senior Airman Lauryn Gormaly, 9th Aircraft Communications Maintenance Unit ground communication segment technician, uses a remote control to stow an antenna at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., March 1, 2018. (Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tristan D. Viglianco)

According to Air Force Staff Sgt. John Brummett, 9th ACMU ground communication segment maintenance noncommissioned officer, there are two sides of the shop: the maintenance side and the network side.

Passing Along Information

“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.”

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 Air Force 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.

Relaying Intelligence

Transmitting the data to the Distributed Control Ground System on base also falls on the 9th ACMU.

The intelligence is also relayed to commanders in theater so they can make decisions.

“We provide near real-time intelligence to the warfighter,” Brummett said. “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 that their mission is important.

“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,” Santos said. “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.”