By James Drew
Northrop Grumman's RQ-4B Global Hawk programme has received Milestone C approval from the US Air Force, nearly 15 years after the service began purchasing the large, unmanned surveillance aircraft.
“For a normal programme this usually means they go into full-rate production, but we’ve delivered 18 jets to the air force and there’s three more in production now and that will cap out the buy at 21 unless they decide to buy more,” says Northrop’s director of global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems John VanBrabant.
“It means the air force can go forward with a normalised acquisition programme and get into the modernisation phase now.”
The milestone decision relates to the Block 30 aircraft, which carry imaging and signals intelligence payloads.
Beginning in 2001, the Global Hawk started as a regular programme, but normal acquisition and engineering best practices were ditched almost immediately as early development models were sent into combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition, the service has 11 Block 40 aircraft that carry a sophisticated surveillance and tracking radar.