Northrop Grumman Declares 2010 'The Year of the Global Hawk'

By Eric Beidel

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Despite Air Force concerns about its high price tag, the builder of the U.S. Air Force's largest drone is declaring 2010 “the year of the Global Hawk.”
The program will reach a “key milestone” later this month when it begins initial operational tests on newer versions of the unmanned aircraft, George Guerra, vice president of high altitude long endurance systems at Northrop Grumman, told reporters today at the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition. The tests will run through November.
“We're making really good progress in getting assets ready to go,” Guerra said. 
In June, the Air Force's assistant secretary for acquisition David Van Buren told reporters that he was “unhappy” with the Global Hawk program. He described its pace as “excruciating” and said the Air Force was not pleased with its cost. The Government Accountability Office says its price tag is about $183 million per aircraft.
The Global Hawk program of record calls for 77 of the unmanned aerial vehicles. Northrup Grumman is under contract for 42 of them. The contractor has delivered just 22 of those and is waiting to be put under contract for the remaining 35 systems, Guerra said. So far, Northrup Grumman has delivered seven Block 10s, six Block 20s, eight Block 30s and one Block 40.
The Navy program, called BAMS for broad area maritime surveillance, asks for 68 aircraft.
There has been an ongoing debate about the best use of the Global Hawk. Smaller versions of the aircraft, Block 10s, have flown more than 35,000 hours in combat operations, Guerra said. The same systems flew over Haiti in January to help determine the extent of damage after the earthquake. Block 30s also have been employed by U.S. Southern Command in counter-drug operations, Guerra noted.
Three Block 40 aircraft, the newest Global Hawks, are rolling down the production line in Northrup Grumman's manufacturing center in Palmdale, Calif., ready to receive a new radar system that puts an emphasis on surveillance. The multi-platform radar technology insertion program (MP-RTIP) radar sensor aims to offer long-range tracking of moving and stationary ground vehicles and low-flying aircraft.
“We want to try to fly it by the end of the year,” Guerra said.
Among this year's plans for the unmanned aerial vehicle is the deployment of updated versions to bases overseas. A Block 30 Global Hawk already is being stationed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. More will follow, and others will be sent to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy. These forward operating locations will allow Global Hawk to cover nearly every part of the world,  Guerra said.

Topics: Aviation, C4ISR, Sensors, Robotics

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