The head of US military acquisition has issued a stern warning about the dangers of rising costs among unmanned air vehicle programmes, singling out the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk programme as a principal offender.

"This market is not wide open at any cost," Michael Wynne, undersecretary of defence for acquisition, technology and logistics, told the Shephard UAV North America conference on 15 December, adding that the US military "will not buy an advanced combat aircraft if it is the same price of an advanced combat aircraft with a man in it".

Wynne says the airframes themselves are generally not to blame. Instead, it is the temptation to spend wildly on sensors and mission systems that are driving affordability concerns.

The Global Hawk programme provides an illustration, says Wynne, "to the point that now it is approaching what we've paid for some bombers".

Wynne's comments come about a week after the US Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of the US Congress, reported that the Global Hawk's cost had exploded to $123 million a copy - a figure that both the US Air Force and Northrop Grumman dispute.

Source: Flight International