The House Armed Services Committee has made the first move to reverse the US Air Force's controversial decision to retire the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 fleet.

The committee's panel on tactical air and land forces passed an amendment that would prevent the USAF from spending taxpayer funds on efforts to retire the RQ-4 Block 30s, an imagery and signals intelligence gathering version of the Global Hawk family.

The panel's recommendation signals the beginning of a legislative battle with the Obama administration over the fate of the Block 30 fleet. Three more committees in the House and Senate must still pass separate versions of spending bills for the next fiscal year.

The Obama administration submitted a budget request in February that proposes to retire the Block 30 fleet.

 Global Hawk Guam rain - USAF

 ©US Air Force

The Block 30 was built to replace the venerable Lockheed Martin U-2 as a high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, but the programme was cancelled after the USAF concluded that it was significantly more expensive to operate than the U-2, and that the Block 30's sensors are inferior to the U-2's current equipment.

Since the retirement announcement in January 2012, Northrop has kept a full-court press in an attempt to keep the aircraft in service. Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities such as those the Global Hawk provides are among the most demanded services by combat commanders.

"Northrop Grumman is pleased that the House Armed Services Committee has proposed a solution that will allow Global Hawk Block 30 assets to continue to provide Combatant Commanders with information essential to national security," says Northrop.

Construction of other Global Hawk models, including the Block 40 (carrying a different sensor) and MQ-4C broad area maritime surveillance (BAMS) for the US navy, is unaffected.

Source: Flight International