Global Hawk veers off course, official says

Program criticized as it goes before Defense Acquisition Board

The official responsible for overseeing Air Force acquisition programs has singled out the Global Hawk program as one that has proved particularly troublesome from a number of angles, reports Colin Clark at DOD Buzz.

David Van Buren, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, in a candid, on-the-record meeting with reporters on June 18, said he was unhappy with the program’s approach and achievement on cost, the lengthy amount of time it takes to submit proposals, and lengthy testing and delivery, the online journal reported. Northrop Grumman Corp. is the prime contractor for Global Hawk.

In particular, testing and delivery for Block 30 of Global Hawk was slower than expected, Van Buren said in the media briefing.

Because of these concerns, the Defense Department has ordered a cost review of the program that should be ready by late summer or early fall.

Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman said in a statement today that Global Hawk has achieved excellent progress in test and evaluation and that the program is well positioned for this week’s review by the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Acquisition Board.

The contractor said it has reduced the overall cost on Global Hawk’s block 20, 30 and 40 systems and various payloads. Although there have been cost spikes within production lots due to quantity procured in each lot, the overall cost of the air vehicle and its sensors is trending down, the company said.

The Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle system is used by the Air Force and Navy for high-altitude, broad area surveillance similar to that carried out by the manned U-2 aircraft. Together, the military services have a fleet of nine Global Hawks, four of which patrol the Persian Gulf region.

Since it was demonstrated in 2001, the Global Hawk has continuously flown more than 1,665 combat sorties totaling 33,280 combat flight hours, the company said. During those sorties, it has collected more than 606,000 images.

The Air Force is currently conducting formal test and evaluation of two configurations designed to gather enhanced image and signals intelligence in the global war on terror. In addition, Global Hawk is scheduled to deploy in the coming months with the ability to serve as a communications relay over the battlefield.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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