PARIS: Global Hawk takes Washington beating

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The Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk programme enters the Paris air show after a series of setbacks in the political and acquisition process.

The latest shot at the unmanned air vehicle came on 17 June when the Senate Armed Services Committee passed an amendment imposing a new requirement on the US Air Force. Service officials would be prohibited from retiring the Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady unless the military confirms that the RQ-4 will cost less to operate. The U-2 programme is more than 60 years old, although airframes were built up to 1989.

The project has twice breached the Nunn-McCurdy Act, requiring justification if a programme is more than 25% over budget.

 © Northrop Grumman

The Senate's proposal came only a few days after the programme was stung by a new acquisition decision memorandum signed by Ashton Carter, undersecretary of defence for acquisition, technology and logistics.

In the 14 June memorandum, Carter noted that although the reconnaissance UAV is "essential to national security," he has cancelled 11 planned purchases of the Block 30 Global Hawk, leaving 31 Block 30s on the orderbooks. In February, the Block 40 Global Hawk programme was also cut by 11 aircraft to pay for required improvements in the Block 30 and Block 20 fleet.

One week earlier, an operational test and evaluation report of operational Block 30 Global Hawk was made public, noting that the aircraft in operational tests last year achieved an "effective time on station" of 27%, or less than half of the air force's mandatory 55% rate.

Northrop officials have argued that the setbacks may be a blessing in disguise for the programme, allowing officials to focus on resolving the system's reliability issues. Northrop also has said that many of the problems identified during operational testing have already been resolved.