Global Hawk costs soar to $10bn

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Restructuring of the US Air Force's Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle programme earlier this year has pushed total cost close to $10 billion.

In its latest quarterly selected acquisition report (SAR), which tracks major programmes, the Department of Defense says the Global Hawk programme cost has risen by 21.4% to $9.49 billion over its June estimate.

In April, under so-called Nunn-McCurdy rules, the DoD was required to recertify its need for the Global Hawk after unit costs rose 18% from baseline estimates, threatening the programme with cancellation. In June, the USAF restructured the programme. Completion of operational assessment was slipped from June this year to March next year, and production of the 54 air vehicles planned extended by two years to 2015 (Flight International, 14-20 June).

Northrop says the latest SAR estimate is now aligned with the Nunn-McCurdy recertification, and does not represent a further cost increase. The company says development has been on track for more than a year, with the larger Block 20 vehicle on schedule for a first flight later this year or early in 2007.

The DoD says the $1.68 billion increase in programme cost is due primarily to higher estimates for the completion of Global Hawk development ($256 million) the two-year stretch in deliveries ($117 million) greater costs for the UAV's Advanced Signals Intelligence Payload and Radar Technology Insertion Programme sensors ($344 million) the inclusion of all planned retrofits ($340 million) and the activation of a USAF depot capability ($567 million).

The latest SAR lists 87 major acquisition programmes with a total estimated cost of $1,612 billion. Two new programmes have been added to the list: the US Army's Eurocopter UH-72A Light Utility Helicopter ($1.88 billion) and Boeing AH-46D Longbow Apache Block 3 upgrade ($8.09 billion).