Global Hawk out of favour in the Pacific

Global Hawk

Loren B. Thompson Writing on the Lexington Institute site

In a move that seems to contradict the Obama Administration’s recently announced Asia-Pacific strategy, the Pentagon has decided to mothball its longest-range surveillance drones and rely instead on shorter-range U-2 spy planes. The move is a victory for U-2 maker Lockheed Martin, which argues the U-2 has many more years of operational life remaining on its airframes and offers superior sensor performance due to a higher flight altitude. However, the Global Hawk far surpasses U-2 and other airborne surveillance systems in a facet of performance deemed crucial to the vast distances of the Pacific: endurance.

When the president and his defense team unveiled the new Asia-Pacific strategy on January 3rd, they emphasized the role of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems in policing the vast ocean that covers half the Earth’s surface. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has also repeatedly underscored the importance of unmanned aircraft in future military plans. Nonetheless, the Air Force offered up the most common variant of the Global Hawk — the so-called Block 30 — as a bill-payer in preparing the fiscal 2013 defense budget request, and senior officials have embraced that recommendation. The plan is to retire the Block 30s already in the force and terminate further production.

The Block 30 airframes sell for roughly $30 million apiece, not including their payloads. Raytheon Co’s optical, infrared and radar sensors let the aircraft scan large swaths of terrain and transmit images in near real-time.

The Global Hawk was due to replace the Cold War-vintage U-2 spy plane in 2015, but those planes, built by Lockheed Martin Corp, would now remain in service until around 2023, the U.S. official said.

Tight times indeed that $30 million is low the block 40 is still in development and costs are north of $120 million all up with satellite coms. They cost upwards of $36,000 an hour to fly. BAMS has been the black hole of Calcutta with the funding and shouldn’t be far behind. We hear a bunch of the LTA projects are getting shut down. Blue Devil is officially on hold.