Northrop’s Sale of Global Hawk Spy Drones to South Korea Stalls

By Tony Capaccio

Dec. 20 (Bloomberg) — The sale of as many as four Northrop Grumman Corp. Global Hawk drones to help improve South Korea’s reconnaissance capability may have stalled.

The delay, combined with a potential reduction in U-2 surveillance flights over and near North Korea, might degrade U.S. and South Korea ability to monitor events in the communist regime, lawmakers said in a report accompanying the $662 billion defense policy bill for fiscal 2012.

They didn’t elaborate on the reasons behind the delay. The report said only that the possible sale “appears to have stalled” and that House and Senate defense committee lawmakers “intend to assess whether the risk of a gap in intelligence collection in Korea is significant and to examine alternative capabilities.”

North Korean’s leadership is undergoing a leadership transition after Kim Jong Il died Dec. 17 of a heart attack brought on by mental and physical strain, the official Korean Central News Agency said. His son, Kim Jong Un, is the designated successor.

South Korea was planning to buy at least one Global Hawk “to be able to have intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance type assets to look into North Korea,” General Walter Sharp, then-commander of U.S. Forces in Korea, told the House Armed Services Committee in April.

Spy Plane Retirement

The foreign sale of Global Hawk drones would offset program reductions that the Pentagon made this year. Eleven of the planned 55 drones in the Pentagon program were cut because the estimated cost per aircraft this year has increased to $113.9 million from $90.8 million.

The Global Hawk disclosure came in language prohibiting retirement of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s manned U-2 spy plane, which is less expensive to operate but doesn’t have the same endurance or ability to make longer flights.

Lawmakers directed the Air Force to delay the spy plane’s retirement until the Pentagon certifies Global Hawk operations and support costs.

The lawmakers said prematurely retiring the U-2 in the face of a stalled Global Hawk sale might result in an intelligence gap over North Korea.

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