Drones ≠ Cheap

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Air Force photo

The RQ-4 Global Hawk.

It was just over a year ago that Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the Pentagon was scrapping one version of the RQ-4 Global Hawk spy drone after the Defense Department discovered it was cheaper to fly such missions with the human-piloted U-2 reconnaissance aircraft.

“We had hoped to replace the U-2 with the Global Hawk, but the Global Hawk became expensive,” Carter said. “And that’s the fate of things that become too expensive in a resource-constrained environment.”

He must have had contracts like this one, awarded Monday, in mind when he made that statement:

Northrop Grumman Corp., Aerospace Systems, San Diego, Calif., (FA8528-12-C-0003-PZ0001) is being awarded a $433,518,021 (estimated) cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for contractor logistics support for the RQ-4 Global Hawk fielded weapon system. The location of the performance is San Diego, Calif. Work is expected to be completed by Sept. 30, 2014. Type of appropriation is fiscal 2013. The contracting activity is AFLCMC/WIKBA, Robins Air Force Base, Ga.

We asked the Air Force how many aircraft and flight hours this contract supports — something Battleland suggests should be contained in all such announcements — and will update with that information once obtained.

Update, from the Air Force:

How many Global Hawks does this contract support?

“Twenty-four Global Hawk aircraft are supported.”

Presuming the contract is broken down by flight hours, how many flight hours does this contract pay for?

“The contract price is not calculated on the basis of flight hours.”

If not funded via flight hours, how is it calculated?

“The contract price is based upon several factors, to include ratio of sorties divided by flight hours, level of Air Force requested Field Service Representatives at each operational location, and Air Force established performance based objectives.”

Math, from Battleland: the contract runs through Oct. 1, 2014, which is 18 months from now. It supports 24 drones, which works out to 432 months of drone flying, for $434 million. That’s about $1 million per month to keep an RQ-4 flying.