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An Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk sits on a runway in Palmdale, Calif.  Northrop Grumman photo.

The Air Force’s RQ-4 Global Hawk intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance remotely piloted aircraft received Milestone C approval from the Defense Acquisition Executive, a designation that allows the program to move forward with planned modernization activities and its updated acquisition strategy, according to a May 5 announcement from manufacturer Northrop Grumman. The Global Hawk received the designation after its software matured enough to demonstrate “operational interoperability” with other relevant systems. Northrop’s Global Hawk Program Director Mick Jaggers said the decision is a testament to the USAF and industry team’s efforts to support combat operations for over a decade, with various sensor payloads on the aircraft. In the future, Northrop anticipates flying additional payloads within size, weight, power, and communications specifications. Milestone C comes at the end of a program’s engineering and manufacturing development phase, which normally clears the way for the production and deployment phase. However, Global Hawk variants have flown more than 150,000 hours since 2001 in support of combat operations.