How the Global Hawg Keeps Flying

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Air Force photo / Airman 1st Class David Tracy

An RQ-4 Global Hawk taxis down the runway.

Battleland has long been interested in how it was that an unmanned drone – the RQ-4 Global Hawk – ended up costing more money than the U-2 spy plane the Pentagon wanted it to replace for some missions.

After all, Gary Powers – 1929-1977 – was shot down piloting that kind of plane over the Soviet Union – 1922-1991 – in 1960, more than a half-century ago.

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



Well, not exactly. As reporter Richard Sia explains at the non-profit Center for Public Integrity, Global Hawk builder Northrop Grumman conducted its own ISR – intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – mission over Capitol Hill to decide where to strategically target cash-bombs to keep its plane, and more of them, flying for another day.

“The battle over the Global Hawk is one of many in which a major defense contractor and its influential friends in Congress have forced the military to spend money on hardware it doesn’t want,” Sia writes. “The case of the Global Hawks Block 30s also shows how lawmakers — even deficit hawks who say they want to slash federal spending — still earmark money for favored defense projects, even though such earmarks are formally prohibited by both House and Senate rules.”

Check out Sia’s full report here.


Besides cost, he Air Force decided it did not want the Global Hawk 30 because it cannot be counted to do it's surveillance job reliably. But congress is forcing to the service to keep using it. This is not good for the Air Force or the taxpayer.  The Office of Test and Evaluation evaluated months of actual field testing of the Global Hawk RQ-4B Block 30 . It determined that GH could not be on station to do its job as required. If 100% operating on station is perfect, GH only achieved 27%. This is because the GH system cam not provide the data that would allow it to be fixed in time to use when needed.  Claims have been made that now all is well but no official testing confirms this. 


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