Global Hawk In Tailspin, Maybe

Global Hawk In Tailspin, Maybe

The Air Force’s head of acquisition is unhappy with Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk program. David Van Buren held a rare on-the-record briefing with reporters today and said he was “unhappy” with the program at least three times.

Van Buren said he was unhappy with the program’s approach and achievements on cost. He said he was unhappy with the sensors that go on the aircraft. And he said he was unhappy with the aircraft itself. Oh, and by the way, he said the program takes way too long to submit proposals. How slow can the pace be, you ask? Van Buren said it was “excruciating.”

“Testing and delivery has been slower than expected,” Van Buren said of Block 30 of Global Hawk. “I am not happy with the pace of that program and we are not happy with the cost of the air vehicle.”

While Van Buren’s comments on Global Hawk weaved back and forth between Block 30 and 40 and the overall program, he made very clear he is not happy with the Global Hawk program overall.

A cost review has been ordered and should be ready by late summer, early fall. I asked Van Buren if Northrop Grumman’s program leadership was to blame and he declined to answer, saying he wanted data from the pending review before drawing conclusions about that.

Given how measured and careful Van Buren is, we checked around the building to get some sense of just how bad things are for Global Hawk. We heard from one well-placed source that the program could well be headed for death row unless things improve quickly and substantially.

But a congressional aide who knows the program well said previous efforts to revamp the program have run into serious congressional opposition. “I can’t believe there is anything here they couldn’t fix just by throwing more money at that,” the aide said, predicting long life for Global Hawk in spite of the superb job that the U-2 fleet continues to perform. Global Hawk was supposed to replace the U-2 and the Air Force wanted to retire the aircraft a few years ago. Congress forbade this, and the aide said that was a good thing.

We checked with Northrop Grumman to get their take on this and they offered a detailed rebuttal of much of Van Buren’s comments. Global Hawk spokesman Jim Stratford supplied this:

Northrop Grumman informed the Air Force of overall cost reductions on Global Hawk’s block 20, 30 and 40 systems and the associated payloads, including the enhanced integrated sensor suite (EISS), advanced signals intelligence payload (ASIP) and the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP) radar. While there have been cost spikes within production lots due to the quantity procured within each lot, overall cost of the air vehicle and the sensors is trending down, as the company predicted and expected. Additional cost reductions have been identified by the company and will be evaluated for suitability. Northrop Grumman and its industry teammates have committed to a 60-day turnaround from receipt of RFP to submittal of proposal. We are committed to streamlining the contracting process to expedite Global Hawk deliveries to the warfighter. We are achieving these goals by collaborating closely with the contracting agency at Aeronautical Systems Center and with the strong support of our industry team. Northrop Grumman has addressed with the Air Force the Global Hawk block 10 LRU repair turnaround time. Several initiatives have been implemented to improve repair turnaround time. The sensor supplier has increased work shifts to expedite repairs and recently Northrop Grumman received a contract to develop and implement a dedicated interim repair line to expedite field repairs. In addition, government and contractor personnel are making repairs in theater when appropriate in order to return the system to full operational use as quickly as possible. The increased number repairs is directly attributable to increased use of Global Hawk in theater. Four aircraft – three Air Force and one Navy – are collecting much needed ISR information 7/24. This increased performance exceeds original planned flight profiles for the Air Force program.

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Another Congressional Aide??????

Come on Collin!

At least give us some hint of this guy…his party, his state etc.…how are we suppose to take this guy seriously as a source when we have no visibility on his beliefs, agenda etc…?


Trades are trades. Folks on the Hill may be willing to speak as congressional aides in return for candor. Be assured we speak with folk who deal with programs directly and know whereof they speak. Identifying them in more detail might leave them open to anger from their bosses, possible censure and, in some circumstances, getting canned, It’s a dance; and we try to please you and to safeguard our sources.

Whine about vital military programs while Barry spends billions on welfare and unemployment. Until we are freed of this regime this will not change.

The government loves to yak about overruns, but then they do not tell you what caused the overrun, like increased capability above what was in the original contract. Then they will complain about it

Good Morning Folks,

I hate to throw cold water on this by talking about facts and wing nut ideology but I will.

First off the Global Hawk is first generation UAV technology, the velocity of emerging technologies in this field are startling to say the least. Maybe as Mr. Van Buren is suggesting it time to move on.

Of course my desire, since the Global Hawk is a local product is to support it, I also realize that the demands of the current wars must take priority over all else.

In regard to the difficulty of working with Northrop Grumman there is nothing new here. Corporate layers of bureaucracy are designed to stall work with the idea of preserving/increasing profits, its called the change order, the longer something takes and the more the more change orders a company can get, the more profits they can milk out of the contract.

Byron Skinner

As quick as you are to make claims against Northrop, Lockheed, or other companies, you never point out all of the red tape, mountains of redundant paperwork, dozens of committees, changing requirements and etc. that increases costs and causes delays on the government side of things.

Ah, more of that cutting edge drone technology which is supposed to be replacing manned aircraft, and saving us money.

BTW there’s another fantastic manned platform flying at 60,000 ft over Afghanistan besides the U2 and its called the WB-57F. Thank you NASA!

The mq-1c is supposed to fly at 55,000. It also lands on carriers and is more stealthy. It is probably much cheaper then this but idk. I’m with Byron Skinner on this time to move on.

A few facts for all the “military experts” that offer RPVs as a cure all. The up/downlinks to RPVs are a huge vulnerability that severely limits RPV usefulness. “Autonomous systems” (read AI) are not here yet and will not likely be available for a least 20 years. The manpower bill to support RPVs is large…all the yak about savings over manned platforms is hype. RPVs are very useful in low threat operations but the utility of current RPVs in moderate/high threat environments is limited…so “betting the farm” on this technology is folly.

Good Morning Folks,

Insider. There are considerable savings over the purchase of manned air frames see P8 vs. GW in airframe costs. Even with the Global Hawks tripling of its base price since it was introduced, at the platform level of a UAV vs. Manned platform the UAV is a bargain.

The up/down links are the same for either a manned or unmanned aircraft depending on the the ISR packages. All the Global Hawk is just a ride for the selected mission packages that the user puts aboard.

The Global Hawk has proved the autonomous capabilities years ago. This month alone it did an autonomous R/T to Japan and back from Edwards AFB.

There are no military cure alls for anything. As soon as a technology or tactic matures and becomes operational enemies find a way to defeat it. Then we start the cycle all over again.

RSF. The U-2 is 60 year old technology, yes its been revisited several times, but was brought back only as a stop gap between the SR-71 and what is happening now. The equation that is critical the issue is that Pilot=POW and show trials, re: Francis Gary Powers 1960.

When the PRC brought down a USN EP-3 it was a propaganda wind fall, the PRC has American Military American prisoners, and what should have been but wasn’t, a technological bonanza for the PRC. If they take down a Global Hawk all they have is scrap.

Byron Skinner

Bywrong, AF budget figures do not sustain your assertion; if you were privy to them then you would know.
You are clueless on uplink/downlinks…as I said, if you are dealing with a low tech opponent, the RPV does fine. A manned system can always bring the date and the platform home
The Global Hawk is not an autonomous system…it flies a programmed plan or a plan modified by an uplink.…it possesses no AI. Manned platforms are the only autonomous systems until AI is “invented”.
We are finding the U2 very difficult to replace for these reasons. RPVs are very useful for low threat/tech opponents…men can be “ debriefed and rebriefed…in a matter of minutes.…men can think..machines cannot, yet.
As to the POW “problem” you raise…so what. When you accept the wings, buy the big wrist watch, accept the flight pay, then you accept the hazards of combat aviation…what’s the problem…we’ve been doing it for a long time.

Good Evening Folks,

Insider. I’m not going to be baited into discussing either budget information or communication systems that have not been widely circulated in the open media.

Your callus opinion of US military personal strongly indicated that you yourself have never been in the military let alone served in combat and is consistent with the ideological trash from the right wing.

Byron Skinner

Insider, ignoring costly Global Hawk for a moment, few threats can realistically obstruct satellite or TCDL data links, and they are adversaries with lots of nukes that we will never fight due to MAD…and they can shoot down U2s. What happens when lesser threats try to jam UAS and thus emit? What happens to the few S-300 batteries of lesser threats that fire a radar-guided missile at a UAS? Does it expose a battery more expensive than many UAS and expend missiles that can’t be used against a manned aircraft? Can a UAS have the same low observability features as some manned aircraft, or mimic its features ala MALD?

What of others put at risk attempting personnel recovery when a manned aircraft goes down? Do they all get the same or any flight pay? Rescue aircraft lack ejection seats and face substantial threats. There is still an international incident.

Army UAS often do not require satellites. They don’t require costly officer pilots and have better accident rates due to automated launch and recovery. They don’t require data links for reachback to DCGS. Manned platforms are hardly autonomous when a pilot is aboard, some operating with more than one pilot and other manned aircraft, and getting vectored by AWACS. How is it that different from having a man controlling the UAS from the ground often cued by other ISR?

You can run UAS shifts without pilots or survivability equipment adding to aircraft weight and taking away loiter fuel, UAS operators can use the bathroom and not wear astronaut suits. You can debrief and brief an Army UAS crewmember…and do it face-to-face concurrent with long missions because the mission commander is in ground TOCs and shifts are working nearby and can brief the S-2. Does U-2 send video to a JTAC ROVER or Soldier OSRVT? Troops can text chat and use tactical radios to communicate with the USAF and Army UAS. U2s? Does a U2 launch Hellfires?

“RSF. The U-2 is 60 year old technology, yes its been revisited several times, but was brought back only as a stop gap between the SR-71 and what is happening now. The equation that is critical the issue is that Pilot=POW and show trials, re: Francis Gary Powers 1960″.

I’m a little confused Byron, I was talking about the WB-57F which is being flown by NASA for both private industry and the Pentagon over Afghanistan. Whats interesting is that while this mission started with flying reconnaissance packages for private industry, military leadership in the region quickly asked for military related packages to be flown also. And this in a permissive environment already saturated with drones of all types. Quite frankly their is no UAV technology capable of flying the heavy equipment packages that these aircraft are capable of lofting for long periods of time.

On the Gary Powers U-2 incident I’m pretty sure that everyone knows this nasty bit of history and I’m not disagreeing on the vulnerability of the U2. And speaking of the Blackbird, we both know that there’s other high speed manned reconnaissance technology flying since the early demise of the SR-71, right?

“CONTRACTOR BASHING” is becoming a daily occurrence within the Obama Administration politically partisan hacks within The White House, but I REALLY EXPECTED “FAR BETTER” {!} FROM The Pentagon staffs.

The US Air Force GAVE AWAY TWO COPIES OF UN-NEEDED “Global Hawks” to the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center [in the Antelope Valley, CA] and NASA Jet Propulsion Lab [La Canada / Flintridge, CA] more than 15 months ago!

AT THAT TIME = NASA “had no clue” what to do with these NEW GIFTS form the US Air Force, since its included contractor Northrop Grumman maintenance as “part of the package”!

I WAS ATTENDED A J=P=L “Educators’ Conference” near Pasadena in January, 2009 — just after a failed NASA launch at The Cape in FLORIDA — and within a few days of a successful Japanese multiple min-satellite launch from their site in the Far East!

At that time = I SUGGESTED to my NASA JPL host and hostess — since THEY DID NOT KNOW ANYONE WORKING ON SENSOR SUITES TO MOUNTO THE THE TWO NEWLY RECEIVED “Global Hawk” airf-rames — using a “MISSION to PLANET EARTH” application WHICH THEN “seemed a natural, using the UN-orbited technologies aboard the failed NASA launch from The Cape a few days earlier — without duplicating the recent “Japanese sensors successfully and recently launched” related to the NASA international cooperative launch failure — subsequently — from The Cape in FL!

Last month the NASA JPL “GLO PAC” mission successfully few, using a “Global Hawk” from NASA Dryden!

THAT OCCURRED MORE THAN SEVENTEEN MONTHS after the original conversation — on that topic — at the “JPL Educators’ Conference” in La Canada / Flintridge, CA — during January, 2009!.

SINCE I TYPED, WROTE and AM RESPONSIBLE FOR THE PRIOR POSTS = “warts and all” — ALL “TYPOs” were mine, without benefit of proper edits!

REGRETS to those so offended. — dcp

NEWS FLASH — for a $10.00 purchase at the local sporting goods I can be out in the open and invisible to satalite — ANPVS — and THERMAL immaging, all operators do it and so does the enemy, I’m not going to mention it here because I dont want to cause a rush on the shelves for those that dont know what I’m talking about, but the fact is that technology has not gotten good enough in any area yet that low tech cant defeate it period. I have proved this practice with many a doubting thomas more than once at PICATINY and various army commands, a lot of troops now carry this lowtech as part of thier SERE kits now days because it is effective. This is why the rebels are so hard to find at times, our guys know not to belive tech recon of any area and if rebels are spotted in the area then there numbers are most likely a lot larger than what the tech identifies. Manned aircraft are still supperior as long as the pilot can see the ground but boots on the ground is still the best intel to depend on.

FACTOID: Pentagon budgets can be found at: http://​comptroller​.defense​.gov/​B​u​d​g​e​t​2​0​1​1​.​h​tml

This link takes you to the general Pentagon comptroller website. Scroll down at the right to see the various Army, Navy Air Force, and Defense Agency budgets. There are tabs to go back to other years. This site also has highlghts books to get a quick sense of what the Pentagon is supporting and buying.

What? Like the Pentagon doesn’t support the biggest welfare queens (called contractors) of all time?

“Unhapy” is not what you want to hear, multiple times, from your main customer. There are competitors coming, which is why NG needs to get its program fixed ASAP. But they aren’t here yet. Until and unless they are, we won’t see cancellation.

MQ-1C is the SkyWarrior Predator derivative. It can’t fly at 55,000 feet, more like 25,000. The MQ-9 Reaper can fly at 50,000 feet, and can carry almost 3,000 pounds payload, but lacks Global Hawk’s range and coverage because it’s much, much slower. General Atomics is developing a “Predator C”/Avenger model that’s jet powered, however, and that will become a viable competitor. EADS is continuing Talarion development, which may eventually produce another. And the Army’s LEMV airship program offers a very different approach that will be competitive in a different way: a slow platform that doesn’t cover territory as quickly, but offers 3 week endurance instead of 3 days.

DARPA is also working on the High Altitude Airship/ISIS, which could replace not only Global Hawks and U-2s, but may one day combine with the P-8 to replace the JSTARS fleet as well.

Again, however, all this is in the future. In the present tense, the USAF needs Global Hawk and must grit their teeth. NGC would be wise to make them stop feeling that way, however.

Did you have a point? I cannot help you with your problem with US military fighters and bombers…I’m not sure what you would substitute for the capability that fighters and bomber bring

Cole…LOL…RTFQ. I agree that UAS/RPV platforms in low threat, IW environments make perfect sense. Small UAS’s may be worth the investment for the Army in higher threat fights.…as to U2s…don’t think the U2 mission is duct taped to the Army Company CO…U2’s were adapted to IW as best we could as were many AF systems. The AF sole mission is not to support the squad leader. Get over it.

Nice try…LOL…Like you are an insider on current and future AF RPV programs. I wasn’t trying to “bait” you into anything. I know that you don’t have info on for example the RPV Road Map or the FY12 budget. Wonder how I know that??

As to your silly little personal attack: LOL…Tell you what “Audie”, the discussion of RPVs has nothing to do with it but since you made a point of it… I’ll put my 30 years of service, command time, combat experience, rank, # of gongs, BDA and breadth & level of operational experience up against yours.

Read the earlier answer. Neither a U-2 nor a Global Hawk can survive against Russia or China. Satellites may not either, but suspect they can do anything a U-2 can do for theater-support missions. An unmanned stealthy aircraft probably can, as well. Both the U-2 and Global Hawk can survive against North Korea and Iran since neither currently has S-300 or better, and if they do get them they won’t have many.

What other threat nation do you think will take out a Global Hawk? I recall the USAF stripped down a high-hour Predator or two and flew them over Baghdad to waste Iraqi air defense rounds. They ended up running out of gas and crashing instead of getting shot down.

I agree that AF needs to spend money on ISR capable of operating in a high threat environment vice low tech/low threat. Why not leave the the limited threat environment to the Army? The GH is vulnerable. Predators over Baghdad??? Again, my overall point is that, in high threat war, RPV technology is only a partial answer to ISR but of little to no value in strategic attack, Interdiction and certainly not air superiority with current limitations and forseeable technology. War of the Droids? Maybe some day but no time soon. If you have some burning physics insight to the contrary, pls let AFRL know.

Really…the FY 12 deliberations are on an unclassified site?? I don’t think so. We are talking about the future not the runway behind us.

Sorry for the wrong designation I was talking about the avenger the stealth predator that lands on carriers and has a jet engine also. I believe it is supposed to be faster then the global hawk. They are only 11 million a copy also. http://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​G​e​n​e​r​a​l​_​A​t​o​m​i​c​s​_​A​ven.… So basically it flies as high but with more stealth because of the engine configuration, and it is cheaper and can be used off a carrier deck also. Sounds like a win win

Sounds like the customer is using typical customer thinking–“this is the third one you’ve built, so it should be three times as capable for one-third the cost!”

The Global Hawk is still by far one of the safest and most versatile aircraft that the air force has procured. It was rushed into service by the Air Force during the Iraq War following 9/11, and the Air Force was more than willing to waive numerous requirements to get it into the field. Now the Air Force is in a headlong rush to “qualify” all those missed items from the Block 10 GHs on the Block 20/30M/30-I. After over 30,000 combat hours in the fleet, it has one of the lowest mishap rates, but has provided more data (both SAR, EO/IR and ELINT) than any other platform in theater. By far, the Global Hawk has been and will continue to be one of the best intelligence platforms that the Air Force has ever purchsed. Don’t believe me? Ask the Navy why they picked the Global Hawk for BAMS — or better yet, the Luftwaffe why they think that the best air vehicle for their SIGINT bird was the Global Hawk.

Global Hawk is a good idea that keeps getting better — and will have the capacity to grow and fulfill missions now and in the future.

When I was a fighter pilot in the AF everyone knew that you must have manned air superiority in the theaters (example Afgan/Iraq/Pak) to use drones (no bad guy manned aircraft) , or if not the drones become the most popular sport, easy targets. The only recon plane I knew that wasn’t vulnerable to easy attack was the SR71.… too high and too fast…even with known coordinates and GSI vectored intercept for direct tactical pop it was almost never found on the best radars… luv that bird.…

“I can’t believe there is anything here they couldn’t fix just by throwing more money at that,”!! I HOPE he meant that as a “nasty”! Otherwise, he is just another Demoncratic idiot who thinks that all the FED needs to do is print more money.

Global Hawk doesn’t have ELINT capability. Only imagery.

Incorrect. The EuroHawk does. Also the Why do they have multiple versions of the same Airframe if all they do is take pictures? Maybe “Ears” too? Research ASIP.

Funny thing about an all composite construction leaves with a very small radar signature. All the GH is an empty shell with a great range and on-station capability. Over 24hrs if the jet streams are right. Now put whatever you want inside that shell and you can do alot. BACN, ISR, SIGANT, atmospheric research or world records. The GH is excellent for mission accomplishment in those fields. By the way the MQ-1C is not operational or even close to being out of flight test. The US Navy has shown little interest in the MC-1C or i wonder why they need to. There is the Lockheed Martin They have their own DARPA program currently underway (X-47B) that will be a UCAV on steroids. But i digress, the GH has lots of room for expansion the LRU capabilities are near limitless and for as far as stealth and it being 1st gen UAV.….…I know the predator has been shot down, no adversary of the US has the ability to seek and destroy the GH. Why fix it, if its not broken?

Correction: The Lockheed Martin has a separate UCAV DARPA program from the X-47B program which is a NGC/USN N-UCAV.

Payload on the mq is 800lbs. Globalhawk can carry 3000lbs of sensors, and it’s mission doesn’t require stealth.


You can’t be serious. GH sensor suites have been around for several years, and it’s not difficult to figure out who the vendors are.



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