Global Hawk at risk of being “non-affordable”, DOD says

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The US military's top weapons buyer today repeated cost concerns about the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk first raised by a senior air force official 10 days ago.

The high-altitude unmanned aircraft system (UAS) is "on a path to be non-affordable", undersecretary of acquisition technology and logistics Ashton Carter told reporters.

Carter's comment on Global Hawk came as he announced a DOD initiative to generate 2-3% savings annually by slashing costs in the DOD's $400 billion budget spent on contractors.

The streamlining cuts across all programmes, but Global Hawk will be among the first subjected to a "should-cost" review by the DOD's cost analysts, Carter says. The review is intended to produce an independent view on what the DOD should actually be paying, versus what the contractor charges.

Concerns about the Global Hawk's cost have grown as Northrop's price rises despite heavier demand for the product, Carter says. By contrast, in the private sector, higher demand for computers produces cheaper and better products every year, he adds.

Similarly, demand for the Global Hawk has grown steadily since the long-endurance aircraft was introduced in the mid-1990s.

At least six versions of the Global Hawk, including four by the air force and two by the navy, have been or are being purchased by DOD. Northrop also has sold an export version of the aircraft to Germany called EuroHawk.

"All have a roughly comparable airframe," Carter says. "Why are these things costing more every year and not less?"

On 18 June, air force assistant secretary for acquisition David Van Buren told reporters he is "not happy with the cost of the air vehicle" and that testing has been slower than expected.

Northrop countered the air force's critical comments last week, saying overall costs have declined and not increased. Northrop attributes "cost spikes" to quantities purchased in individual lots.

Meanwhile, air force and navy leaders have been working to increase the commonality between the Global Hawk fleet and the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) programme. The focus has been on sharing systems and components in the ground systems for both fleets, as well as production efficiency.