Pentagon rejects call to limit Global Hawk output

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UAV seen as essential to current military operations, but GAO wants production halt

The US Department of Defense has rejected fresh calls by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) for production of the Northrop Grumman RQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle to be limited to just flight-test articles rather than operational aircraft.

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© USAF 

 DoD insists larger RQ-4B (left above) is essential despite cost overruns

Production of the high-altitude, long-endurance UAV variant is already under way. The DoD warns the proposed halt “would incur significant cost and schedule delays”.

The DoD says that, while the business case for the RQ-4B is again being reviewed, the UAV is essential to current military operations. “Combatant commanders continue to request this capability, and the acquisition strategy balances risk with the need to support the warfighter,” it argues.

The GAO says that the RQ-4B remains a high-risk development effort and has experienced a 73% increase in acquisition and procurement unit costs since development of the improved variant began in 2001.

It also argues current production aircraft will potentially need to undergo major modification to fit proposed signals intelligence and imaging radar payloads still under development.

Northrop Grumman began production of the RQ-4Bs in July 2004. The GAO report reveals that differences between the larger variant and the existing RQ-4A aircraft have proven to be “more extensive, complex and costly than anticipated”.

The GAO report says: “Once manufacturing began, there were recurring quality and performance issues on the work of several key subcontractors. The subcontractor building the tail scrapped seven of the first eight main structural components because of design changes and manufacturing process deficiencies.”

PETER LA FRANCHI / LONDON