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Canadian Forces JUSTAS Project  –  HALE UAVs  –  July 2013

DND's JUSTAS Project: HALE (High-Altitude, Long-Endurance) UAVs

JUSTAS Project – HALE UAVs "... hale and hearty and capable of withstanding hardships"

A High-Altitude, Long-Endurance UAV is usually defined as an unmanned aircraft capable of operating at altitudes of 60,000 feet or more. In other words, a HALE is a long-range UAV which will normally fly well above commercial air traffic.[1] Oddly, the Canadian Forces UAV Campaign Plan classifies UAVs  not by altitude or endurance but  by their maximum take-off weights. DND's Tier 1 covers UAVs with an MTOW over 5,000 lbs (2,267 kg) which is meant to include both HALE  and  Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance UAVs. The only operational military HALE UAVs to date have all  been members of  the US  RQ-4  Global Hawk  family.

Military High-Altitude, Long-Endurance UAVs aren't a new concept. In the early 1970s, the US Air Force's Compass Cope program tried to combine all the possible UAV roles into one airframe. That proved too ambitious for the times. Boeing, a Compass Cope competitor, tried a different tack in late 1980s with its Condor, an 'ultra-HALE' with an endurance of 80-hours. This private venture was a high flier but, being piston-engined, Condor was also quite slow.

The first practical HALE UAV was the Teledyne Ryan –  now Northrop Grumman  –  RQ-4A Global Hawk. And it is fair to say that USAF testing of a Global Hawk Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration aircraft over  Canadian territory prompted  the  JUSTAS Project.

From its beginning, the JUSTAS Project has been skewed towards HALE UAVs. But Global Hawk did present DND with problems. The first was being reliant upon the cooperation of a foreign power while performing sovereignty patrols.[2] The Global Hawk UAVs rely upon a constellation of US Milstar communications satellites [3] which leads to the second problem. A UAV flying in the Arctic must communication with satellites  'parked'  in geosynchronous, mid-latitude orbits. The further north  the UAV flies,  the more extreme signal angles become.

The Global Hawk made the military HALE UAV concept a technical practicality for the first time. But, being much larger than any MALE UAV, Global Hawk is also the most expensive UAV out  there. Indeed, DND's concerns over potential loss of communications with such a pricy system might have been one of the impediments to progress in the JUSTAS Project. [4]

Over a decade in to Canada's JUSTAS Project,  Northrop Grumman proposed Polar Hawk, a Global Hawk specialized for patrolling the Arctic. Polar Hawk would rely on a constellation of  low-orbit civilian satellites to ensure a continuous data link with this HALE UAV, thereby skirting the difficulties of communicating with and controlling HALE UAVs at high latitudes.

[1] Other than the military Global Hawks, most current HALE UAV types are either research vehicles – usually demonstrating alternative propulsion techniques (eg: solar electric hybrid or liquid hydrogen-fuelled internal combustion engines) or earth sciences sensor 'platforms'.

[2] This is particularly awkward when the supplier country in question doesn't accept your sovereignty assertions over some of the internal waterways to be patrolled by these UAVs.

[3] Milstar is a secure US satcom system with its terminal at Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts. The Milstar satellites operate as an exchange allowing secure, unjammable communications. However, UAV data volumes began to tax joint US systems. Should that US military satellite system become overwhelmed by data, Canada had no way to ensure that communications between Global Hawks and Canadian ground control stations would be given any priority.

[4] A draft of the Canada First doctrine suggested that CP-140 Auroras might be moved to CFB Goose Bay from where they would resume Arctic NORPAT flights. That didn't happen.

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