Plans to base a small fleet of unmanned surveillance planes at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, are starting to take shape.

Pacific Air Forces officials said that upon availability, the Air Force in fiscal year 2009 intends to begin bedding down four Global Hawks and the personnel needed to launch and recover the aircraft at the 21,000-acre base.

“Timing and deliveries will be based on when the ground station and aircraft are released for operational employment,” said Lt. Col. Louis Ranhofer, chief of combat support branch, operational requirements, PACAF Air and Space Operations Directorate.

PACAF civil engineers are designing a new $47 million operations and maintenance hangar to house the planes and provide office and workshop space for personnel assigned to the unit, Ranhofer said in recent telephone and e-mail interviews. How many additional personnel will move to Andersen in conjunction with the Global Hawk has not been determined, PACAF officials said.

The Air Force’s main operating base for the aircraft will be at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., Ranhofer said, while Andersen will serve as the PACAF forward-operating location.

The Global Hawk provides near-real-time, high-resolution, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance imagery. It can cruise at an altitude of up to 65,000 feet while imaging land the size of Illinois in just 24 hours. Ranhofer said the aircraft has a 28-hour endurance capability with an additional four hours of fuel reserve. Since the plane cannot be refueled in-flight, it must be recovered after each mission. Though pilots operate the Global Hawk remotely, “when it comes time to launch or recover the airplane, it’s safest to have an element (of personnel) right there at the landing facility to give it the command it needs to land and taxi off the runway,” Ranhofer said.

With about 4,000 combat hours, the Global Hawk still is in operational testing, according to a Sept. 14 Air Force Print News report. Northrop Grumman is the primary contractor. At a September briefing organized by the Air Force and the Washington, D.C., consulting firm of DFI International, PACAF Commander Gen. Paul V. Hester said stationing the Global Hawk at Andersen will allow the Air Force to fly reconnaissance missions all over the Pacific.

The planes would be launched from Guam and controlled from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, Hester said at the briefing, according to a article. They could fly to the Sea of Japan or East China Sea and remain there for 16 hours, or to the Straits of Malacca and stay for 12 hours, before returning to Guam, he said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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