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.