The US Air Force has issued a pre-solicitation notice to purchase additional Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned air vehicles (UAV), despite the potential retirement of the existing fleet.
The Air Force released a pre-solicitation notice on 12 September, notifying the public of its intent to buy Lot 12 aircraft.
The Block 30, initially purchased to augment and eventually replace the Lockheed Martin U-2 as a high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft, has come under fire for reliability and sensor problems. A low rate of mission readiness coupled with the high cost of operation has led the USAF to repeatedly attempt to cancel the programme, saying that the U-2 and a classified platform could fulfill Global Hawk's mission. The sensors Global Hawk carries, the Enhanced Imagery Sensor Suite (EISS) and Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload (ASIP), received mixed reviews.
"Against AF [Air Force] recommendations, AF was directed in the FY13 NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] to procure the GH [Global Hawk] Block 30 Lot 11 aircraft (3)--so we are," says a senior Air Force official, who requested anonymity. "Per our assessment, the current fleet of 18 GH Block 30 aircraft is sufficient to meet the required demand for high-altitude ISR support--and when delivered, the additional 3 aircraft will be "excess to need" and will very likely be designated as backup aircraft inventory (or attrition reserve)."