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UPDATED: Big payday for Global Hawks

If the Global Hawk unmanned planes are on the rocks, one wouldn’t know it by the Pentagon’s contract announcements. Northrop Grumman is being awarded a contract worth up to $555.6 million for “Global Hawk modernization,” according to a May 13 announcement.

Sunrise or sunset for Global Hawks? Credit: Northrop Grumman

The work will include “engineering efforts,” “configuration management,” and “studies and analyses.” It’s supposed to be done by May 14, 2015.

One thing the money won’t be used for is to buy three more of the high-flying spy planes, as Congress told the Air Force to do in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. “I’ve confirmed. It’s not for aircraft procurement,” Air Force spokesman Ed Gulick said by email.

Air Force officials are in tense talks with congressional staff members to try to win relief from the buy-more-Global Hawks requirement. They argue that the additional planes — Block 30 versions costing at least $100 million each — wouldn’t be delivered until 2017, three years after the Air Force finishes its congressional mandate to keep flying the Block 30s through 2014.

Congress and the Air Force have been at loggerheads since early 2012, when the Air Force did an about face and said it wanted to stop buying or flying the Block 30 versions of the Global Hawks — the versions that were intended to be most like the piloted U-2s. Only months earlier, the Defense Department told Congress the planes were critical to national security, a requirement to keep money flowing under the Nunn-McCurdy cost control law. Congress reacted by telling the Air Force to keep flying the Block 30s through December 2014, and in fact buy more of them.

Just last month the Air Force reiterated that it wants to put its 18 Block 30 Global Hawks in storage after 2014. Aviation Week reported earlier this year that the radar-equipped Block 40 versions might be killed too.

2 Comments

  1. This just sounds so dodgy. At best (and it’s not a good ‘best’) could this just be another example of military left hand/right hand discoordination? Only a month or so ago, it really seemed to be time to put Global Hawk to bed in favour of looking at the next generation of HALE systems, more as the pivot shift towards the north and west Pacific implies a greater likelihood of air operations in a contested environment – an environment that Global Hawk may find ‘challenging’ to say the least, noting its limited manoeuvrability and ability to either defend itself or run away…

    Or has someone just sunk a 555 million harpoon into DoD funding resources and is going to Ahab-like ride it all the way in until there’s nothing left to give…?

  2. Why there isn’t a rally around the Global Hawk and effort to put the U-2 to bed instead are the world’s greatest examples of politics and the good ol’ boys’ flying club mentality of Air Force pilots. They’d rather fall on their sword and ruin their bodies for the “glamor” of flying that Cold War relic (which BTW doesn’t work that well in contested environments either) than bring the Global Hawk to the forefront. Yes, this sounds dodgy – just like what they did to the F-111 two decades ago. Politics prevail and operational needs and logic take a back seat. Global Hawks shouldn’t be put in storage; they should be put in the air. Time to put the U-2s up on sticks at base gates everywhere. . .

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  1. Throw the pin!! « The World According to Me… - [...] of the presses at Deep Diver Intel as I was typing this…for reasons unknown but bound to be scary, ...

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