Battleland

Global Hawk: “Thar She Blow$!”

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Northrop Grumman

The Air Force's Global Hawk spy drone

In a recent Battleland post, Mark Thompson noted the cost of a crashed Global Hawk: $72.8 million according to the Air Force. Some will automatically think that price equates to the unit cost for the drone. As they say, that’s not the half of it.

Dark and sinister forces sent me a copy of the Pentagon’s 2010 Selected Acquisition Report for the Global Hawk…

See page 29; the total program unit cost (i.e. R&D and Procurement and Milcon, also known as Program Acquisition Unit Cost [PAUC] and counting the extensive ground control components) for the Global Hawk is $211.0 million in then-year dollars (i.e. the ones actually to be appropriated).

Want to discount the R&D? That’ll get you down to $140.9 million each, but that ain’t the “sticker price.” (Go to your local Chevy dealer and tell the salesman you’ll only pay for factory assembly & materials costs, not GM and dealer overhead, product testing, transport, and a lot more [not any of it profit]; don’t expect a polite answer.)

See also the last page of the SAR where DOD estimates the O&S costs, add $29.2 billion, not counted above, to the total cost of the program. Air Force data on flying hour costs also is a little higher than drone advocates like to advertise. Each RQ-4B costs $31,052 to operate each hour in the air, a lot for a high- endurance drone, and annual flying costs are running at $16.8 million per year for each air vehicle. (This USAF data is available on request.)

Those numbers are before the most recent cost increases, likely to be reported in April in the next SAR.

Think Global Hawk is performing OK, other than in the now shamed Block 30 version that couldn’t outperform a 50-year old manned aircraft design? Check out the comments of the Director of Operation Test and Evaluation on Global Hawk for 2011. It’s mostly Pentagonese gobbledey-gook, but if you can discern the actual meaning and read between the lines, you will not come away with a warm and fuzzy about the Block 10, 20 and 40 versions of Global Hawk.

Look at the picture of Global Hawk: “Whale” would be more appropriate, but that wouldn’t help the salesmen for Block 30, and the rest, at the House Armed Services Committee.

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