RQ-3A DarkStar


DarkStar, formerly identified as the Low Observable High Altitude Endurance (LO HAE) or Tier III– UAV, is designed to provide critical imagery intelligence from highly defended areas. With its use of low observable technology to minimize the air vehicle’s detectability, DarkStar trades air vehicle performance and payload capacity for survivability features against air defenses. Its payload is either SAR or EO. The air vehicle may be self-deployable over intermediate ranges. The HAE Common Ground Segment (CGS) provides launch and recovery and mission control elements (LRE and MCE), which are common and interoperable with Global Hawk. DarkStar’s prime contractor is the Lockheed Martin/Boeing team.


Air Vehicle [TBD]
1 Common Ground System

Key Operational Factors

Sensors: EO or SAR
Deployment: Multiple C-141/C-17/C-5 sorties
Radius: >926 km (>500nm)
Endurance: 12 hrs (8 hrs at radius)

Funding (Then-Year $M)
- RDT&E, Defense-wide

FY 1997 Activities and Flight Preparations

DarkStar’s Flight #2 crash (22 April 1996, following its successful first flight in March) led to several design and control changes to correct the porpoising motion that induced the crash and to make the flight control system more robust. The system changes were extensively modeled and incorporated into AV-2, which was converted to flight status after completing radar cross-section testing.

EO imagery of the San Francisco Bay area, CA

Other accomplishments included:

  • A highly successful EO camera test (aboard a C-130 aircraft; see imaging of San Francisco at left);
  • Critical air vehicle control and reliability modifications; and
  • Upgrades to computers and the flight simulator.

Meanwhile, AV-3 and -4 are being fabricated for Phase III, Test and Field Demonstrations, which is now scheduled to begin in FY 1999.

DarkStar AV-2 was transferred to the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, at Edwards AFB, CA, in October 1997, completes taxi tests in December, and is poised for a resumption of the flight test program early in 1998.



The third part of the HAE UAV system is its Common Ground Segment (CGS), which controls both HAE AVs. The CGS includes a Launch and Recovery Element (LRE), a Mission Control Element (MCE), a DarkStar Data Processing Element (DS DPE), associated communications, maintenance and support elements. The LRE prepares, launches and recovers the AV. The MCE plans and executes the mission, dynamically re-tasks the AV (including its sensors), and processes and stores or disseminates imaging and ground MTI data.

HAE CGS Mission Control Element (MCE)

HAE CGS Launch and Recovery Element (LRE)

The HAE CGS will be able to control up to three HAE UAVs at a time by LOS data link and SATCOM relay, thus enabling a single system to maintain a continuous presence over many days and at extended ranges from the operating site. The AVs will transmit digital imagery to the MCE (and TCS) via wideband LOS or satellite links for initial processing and relay to theater and/or CONUS imagery exploitation systems (IESs) using standard (CIGSS-compliant) formats. Selected reports and imagery frames will be able to be broadcast directly. When linked with systems such as the Joint Deployable Intelligence Support System (JDISS) and the Global Command and Control System (GCCS), such unexploited digital imagery will be transferable in near-real-time to the operational commander for immediate use. Thus, the HAE CGS will provide digital, high-quality imagery to warfighters and users at various command levels.

During the ACTD’s Phase III, the full HAE UAV system will take part in exercises, demonstrations, and possible contingency deployments. The MCE and LRE pictures (above-right) show the Ground Segment’s progress from last year’s designs to this year’s hardware.