This month the Navy finished the deployment of its last Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Demonstrator (BAMS-D) maritime variant of the Northrop Grumman [NOC] RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system (UAS).

The BAMS-D was originally deployed to the 5th Fleet in 2009 for a six-month concept demonstration. The Navy originally bought five BAM-Ds from the Air Force for the demonstration deployment before it planned to move on to the MQ-4C Triton UAS.

The Navy intended to use the BAMS-D to determine the features needed on the MQ-4C but found it so useful the service extended the deployment year after year.

The service noted the BAMS-Ds provided over half of the maritime intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) in the 5th Fleet area of operations and accrued over 42,500 flight hours in 2,069 missions overseas. Of the five aircraft, at least one was in rotation in the Persian Gulf for the 5th Fleet at any given time.

In 2012, one of the aircraft crashed in Maryland due to a mechanical airframe failure (Defense Daily, Aug. 7, 2012) and in 2019 Iran shot down another BAMS-D near the Strait of Hormuz (Defense Daily, June 20, 2019).

Last year, Northrop Grumman noted the BAMS-D achieved over 40,000 flight hours (Defense Daily, May 28, 2021).

The last BAMS-D finally returned to its home base at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., on June 17.

“BAMS-D has been a singular force multiplier for Fifth Fleet and U.S. Central Command and has provided invaluable insights into the use of unmanned air systems as part of an overall concept of operations for naval ISR,” said Dave Seagle, BAMS-D deputy program manager, said in a statement.

The Navy said that starting in 2013 BAMS-D ramped up its capabilities to 15 24-hour missions every month and added a second aircraft to the mission. 

Over the following nine years, the BAMS-D collected nearly 1.4 million ISR scenes, highlighted over 11,500 targets of interest and provided the fleet with over 15,00 tactical reports. This included how last August the aircraft continued to provide ISR coverage to non-combatant evacuation operations during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“Despite the aging of the system and limited spares available, BAMS-D’s incredible operations and maintenance team achieved an overall mission availability rate of 96 percent, with more than 94 percent of scheduled missions completed,” Seagle said. 

The Navy is now transitioning to use the MQ-4C to provide high-altitude, long-endurance maritime ISR capabilities to complement the P-8A Poseidon aircraft. It is currently being upgraded with multi-intelligence capabilities that the service expects to field in 2023.

Currently, the Navy has forward deployed two MQ-4Cs to the 7th Fleet in a baseline Integrated Functional Capability (IFC)-3 configuration. The service is upgrading its Tritons to the IFC-4 configuration, which the Navy expects to field by 2023.