The US Air Force's decision to halve its order of Block 40 RQ-4 Global Hawks is not expected to stop or even slow down the production line, says manufacturer Northrop Grumman. Nor does the company think the decision marks a permanent, long-term change to the programme.

The Fiscal Year 2012 White House budget request released 14 February includes funding for 11 of the Block 40 high-altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicles instead of the 22 in the air service's original plan. The funds are needed elsewhere in the Global Hawk programme, the Pentagon says, to fix problems with a Raytheon-built electro-optical/infrared payload. - known as enhanced integrated sensor system- for the Block 30 variant, which will eventually replace the U-2 spy plane.

"The current budget environment has forced Air Combat Command to make some pretty tough decisions," says Ed Walby, Northrop's director of business development for the HALE UAV. "The Block 40 is not the number one priority - the Block 30 is."

"It is not a requirements-based reduction. It is a fact of life budget activity," Walby says.

Global Hawk Block 40 - Northrop Grumman 

 © Northrop Grumman

RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40

What Maj Gen Alfred Flowers, the air force's deputy assistant secretary for budget called "truncated" at the budget rollout; Northrop calls "a strategic pause in Block 40 production". The company says all 11 of the Block 40 aircraft that are already funded are currently in some stage of production - from final assembly to ordering long-lead items. Three or four Block 40s are expected to be operational by the end of the calendar year, Walby says, including the first UAV to be delivered to Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota.

The NATO AGS Global Hawk variant - also a Block 40 aircraft - is also moving forward "and that eases the stress on the production line," Walby says. "You're not going to see some kind of work stoppage."

Source: Flight International