BY WILLIAM D’URSO
It can spy on enemy targets while lingering at 40,000 feet for more than a day. But at a typical price of $78 million, the massive 32,250 pound Global Hawk is not just the largest drone in the U.S. arsenal – it’s also the most expensive.
Now, after buying 34 Global Hawks, the Air Force is losing interest. So Northrop Grumman Corp., which assembles and tests the craft at its facility in Palmdale, is shifting its focus to the Navy.
The Global Hawk’s maritime cousin, the Triton, is coming to fruition and will begin test flights later this year. The Navy’s contract for 68 planes – first signed in 2008 and unsuccessfully challenged by rival Lockheed Martin Corp. -– could extend production life by at least five years. The deal will keep about 900 workers busy through at least 2020.
The U.S. military will have spent $7 billion on the Global Hawk through fiscal 2015, according to defense analysis firm Teal Group Corp.
“The secret in sales to any of the services is you need to know what they want,” Steve Zaloga of Teal Group said. “Northrop Grumman, having been in the business a long time, knows the Navy is shifting its requirements.”
The Triton has a host of similarities to the Global Hawk. Both use a Rolls-Royce Engine, have wings made in Texas, and a fuselage built in Moss Point, Miss. The weight is the same, the wingspan is 130.9 feet. The length is just under 48 feet.
But there’s more difference between the two than the paint job (gray and white for the Triton vs. black and gray for the Global Hawk).
Zaloga speculated the Air Force decision to halt purchases of the Global Hawk could be an effort to save money in favor of new drones.
“The Air Force side of the Global Hawk has had its ups and downs over the years,” said Zaloga. “One year they love it, and the other year they want to kill it.”
The Triton, like the Global Hawk, operates from land bases and does not have a strike capability. Its chief role will be to conduct reconnaissance at sea and along shorelines.