Northrop Grumman’s first RQ-4B Block 20 Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle is undergoing systems check-out tests before roll-out in August and first flight by the end of November. The aircraft is the first of the larger, heavier Global Hawk versions being developed for the US Air Force, writes Guy Norris.

Clarifying recently released unit cost estimates, Northrop and the USAF last week continued to counter what they describe as “myths” about the cost of the Global Hawk programme (Flight International, 9-15 May). These include General Accountability Office claims of a $130.5 million price tag, which they say relates to average programme costs, rather than unit costs during its procurement phase.

Northrop says the average unit cost of the Block 20 RQ-4B is $29.4 million, which will fall slightly to $27.1 million for Block 30/40 variants. The sensor package proportion of the overall average unit cost will rise with the increased sophistication of the more advanced payloads for the later blocks, and will total 1,360kg (3,000lb) against the current Block 10 RQ-4A’s 900kg maximum.

Current plans call for the production of six Block 20 UAVs at a unit cost of $45.9 million, including $16.5 million for electro-optical/infrared, synthetic aperture radar and full signals intelligence sensors. Due to fly for the first time next year, the first of 26 Block 30 Global Hawks will have a unit cost of $54.2 million, including a sensor suite worth $27.1 million.

Each of 15 Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion -equipped Block 40 UAVs will cost $66.3 million, including sensor equipment worth over $39 million.

The first Block 40 aircraft will fly in 2008.

Source: Flight International