The US Air Force has not formally cancelled the Block 30 version of the RQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, a top Northrop Grumman executive says.

"We haven't been cancelled today," says Jim Palmer, the company's chief financial officer, speaking at J.P. Morgan's aviation, transportation and defence conference in New York on 13 March. "We don't know if and when we're going to be cancelled. We don't know if they're just going to let the contract run out or what they're going to do."

The company has looked at a range of alternatives and is satisfied its financial guidance for investors sufficiently accounts for the aircraft's demise, he says.

The USAF signalled its intention to terminate the Block 30 version of the Global Hawk as it would cost too much to upgrade the unmanned type to match the venerable Lockheed U-2's sensor capabilities. The decision was announced as part of the US Department of Defense's fiscal year 2013 budget proposal.

The service's top uniformed officer, Gen Norton Schwartz, said the Global Hawk's electro-optical/infrared camera and signals intelligence pod both fall short of the U-2's capabilities. The RQ-4 also is not as reliable as the USAF had hoped, Schwartz said during testimony before the US Congress on 6 March. He noted, however, that the Global Hawk had become more reliable.

The USAF will place the 14 existing Block 30 aircraft it already has into storage. Four aircraft under construction would never enter service, but instead go directly into the "bone-yard".

The air force said there is a possibility the 18 aircraft could be sold to other customers, but there is no definitive plan to do so.

The USAF has come under criticism from Congress for retiring the brand new aircraft.

Source: Flight International