Members of Congress on 6 March harshly criticised the US Air Force's decision to place its recently acquired fleet of Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned high altitude reconnaissance aircraft into storage.

The air force has 14 aircraft in service, while four more are being built by Northrop. All 18 would be retired in the fiscal year 2013 budget proposal.

 USAF Block 30 Global Hawk - Northrop Grumman

© US Air Force

Among the most vocal critics was Congressman Norman Dicks, but almost every member of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee present voiced their dismay at the perceived waste of taxpayer dollars.

Testifying before the committee, USAF chief of staff Gen Norton Schwartz reiterated that the Global Hawk provides less sensor capability than the manned Lockheed U-2 for both electro-optical and infrared imaging and signals intelligence.

The Global Hawk is also less reliable than the USAF would like, but Schwartz conceded that the aircraft was improving.

It would, however, be costly to upgrade the RQ-4 to match the U-2's abilities, and the USAF does not have the money available. Schwartz said last week that the service saved $2.5 billion by retiring the Global Hawk Block 30 fleet.

The Block 30 variant specialises in collecting imagery and signals for intelligence analysts. It differs from the Block 40 variant, which specialises in ground moving target indication and remains in production.

Source: Flight International