With an important report on the RQ-4 Global Hawk due out next month, the unmanned air vehicle's contractor, Northrop Grumman, says it is doing all it can to keep costs down as it moves into the next production phase.
The Block 30 air vehicle's initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) report comes out in early March, the company says - a "kind of an open book midterm test" - and is the gateway to initial operating capability (IOC). And the transition to IOC should be smooth, according to Northrop.
"We don't see any major show stoppers," says Ed Walby, Northrop's director of business development for the high-altitude, long-endurance UAV. "We expect to get an average grade, as most programmes do."
A positive IOT&E report is the stepping-stone to full-rate production, Northrop says. And the company is already examining cost-cutting measures with the US Air Force, meeting weekly with an "affordability team" to look at more than 100 proposed savings initiatives for full-rate production processes.
"Some will bear fruit, some will not," Walby says. "Many of the items have to do with the way we do business, like group buys on components - it's hard to buy in bulk when you're only building two of something. We want to turn over every rock to make sure that the money we save goes back into operating the aircraft. When we can turn development dollars into operating dollars, everyone wins."
The hope is to speed up delivery going into IOC, Northrop says. The contractor plans to have all the operational Block 10 Global Hawks replaced with Block 30s by the end of this year. A second round of Block 30 deliveries to Andersen AFB on Guam and NAS Sigonella in Italy are imminent, the company says. The Block 30 variant is also on track to begin replacing the USAF's manned Lockheed U-2 fleet starting next year.