Costs of the Lockheed Martin/Boeing DarkStar and the Teledyne Ryan Aeronautical Global Hawk unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), undergoing advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD), are soaring to $13 million a copy - $3 million more than the price set several years ago, say US Air Force officials.

The Tier II Plus and Tier III Minus high-altitude endurance UAV ACTD programmes were to have had a unit flyaway price of no more than $10 million, but the USAF now describes the $10 million ceiling as "-a unit cost target designed to keep costs down and avoid requirements creep". The figure was based on production of 10 aircraft, although this number had already been halved to stay within budget limits.

Flight testing of the aircraft has continued, with the DarkStar, which is aimed at the Tier III Minus programme, completing its second flight on 14 September and the Global Hawk due to fly an 11h endurance mission on 17 September. The second Global Hawk enters the flight test programme next month, mainly for sensor tests.

The high-altitude UAVs will undergo military utility assessments, beginning in 1999. An acquisition strategy and funding for both systems has yet to be worked out, but as many as 50 Global Hawks in the Tier II Plus programme could be needed for reconnaissance missions, and between 20 and 40 more for an emerging airborne communications relay role.

France, Germany and the UK may join the Global Hawk project, but negotiations covering their roles and funding contributions continue. UK officials are to receive a programme update before the end of the month.

Meanwhile, negotiations for Australia's involvement are nearly complete, and an agreement is being finalised. Australian interest centres on the planned JP129 joint reconnaissance programme, which involves manned and unmanned assets. Talks include a possible deployment of a Global Hawk to Australia for evaluations.

Source: Flight International