New Global Hawk Wing Charts Path to Maturity

An RQ-4 Global Hawk receives routine maintenance after being refueled June 12, 2019, at Grand Forks AFB, N.D. Air Force photo by SrA. Elora Martinez.

JBSA-LACKLAND, TEXAS—The RQ-4 Global Hawk enterprise has more work ahead to grow into its new wing headquarters at Grand Forks AFB, N.D., four months after it split from the 9th Reconnaissance Wing at Beale AFB, Calif., to form the 319th Reconnaissance Wing.

Air Combat Command boss Gen. Mike Holmes said during an Oct. 11 briefing with wing commanders here that the 9th RW had too much on its plate, between the U-2 Dragon Lady enterprise and the new Common Mission Control Center—an advanced command-and-control system used by intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance crews—to also manage the high-altitude unmanned aircraft built by Northrop Grumman. The 319th RW was formed out of the 319th Air Base Wing at Grand Forks in June to handle Global Hawk and Battlefield Airborne Communications Node operations.

While that shift hasn’t affected how RQ-4s operate out of Beale, Grand Forks, or other installations, Holmes noted that 319th RW headquarters staff needs to grow in order to manage the wing’s responsibilities.

The wing is fleshing out new capabilities for its remotely piloted aircraft as well. Wing Commander Col. Cameron Pringle said the staff is in the early stages of figuring out how to connect Global Hawks to satellite communications and boost their ties to the space enterprise. Communications relays can still prove difficult even in areas without enemy interference, an issue that ISR airmen will address as the 319th RW progresses.

The 319th RW is now one of several wings that falls under 16th Air Force, a new numbered Air Force at JBSA-Lackland that combines cyber, ISR, electronic warfare, and more. Global Hawks’ separation from the 9th RW also signals its maturity as a military platform that is getting more advanced sensors and needs its own organization for resources, instead of sitting alongside the older U-2 in a high-altitude ISR wing.

“I see the 319th [Operations Group] mission getting bigger, better, and in greater demand moving forward,” Capt. Matthew, an evaluator pilot with the 319th OG, said in a July release. “Because of this capability, I expect policymakers to demand more utilization of our platform and platforms like us to maintain and attain national objectives.”

The service identifies certain personnel by their rank and first name due to security concerns.