Still stunned by the Pentagon’s scrapping of the U.S. Air Force Global Hawk Block 30 program, Northrop Grumman said here at the show yesterday that it’s too early to determine whether the decision will impact the cost of other Pentagon UAV programs based on the big-winged jet. The Block 20 Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN), the Block 40 Multi-Platform Technology Insertion Program (MP-RTIP) and the U.S. Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) programs were all unaffected by the decision.
Walt Kreitler, director of business development for BAMS, told AIN that the U.S. Air Force and Navy had agreed to explore synergies, including common engine upgrades and a next-generation communications architecture. Work on that initiative continues, but if the USAF really does intend withdraw the Block 30s that are already in service, and their supporting communications, training and logistics infrastructure, the surviving programs will surely be affected. The Navy had already agreed to co-locate some of the BAMS jets with USAF Global Hawks at overseas bases.
Pentagon officials briefing the Fiscal 2013 budget in Washington Monday seemed to confirm that the Block 30s were all heading for storage. Eleven of them are already in service, with some deployed to Sigonella air base, Italy; Al Dhafra air base, UAE; and Andersen air base, Guam. When the decision to retain the manned U-2 aircraft in preference to the Global Hawk was announced in late January, Northrop Grumman said it planned “to work with the Pentagon to assess alternatives to program termination.”
Kreitler noted that a demonstrator version of the BAMS was already co-located with USAF Global Hawks at a base in the Middle East (meaning Al Dhafra). It was providing the Navy’s Fifth Fleet with more than 50 percent of its maritime surveillance. This aircraft is one of five redundant USAF Block 10s that are being transferred to the Navy. Their Raytheon EO/IR and radar sensor system has been modified to add a maritime radar mode, ESM and the naval automatic identification system (AIS).
But the BAMS proper will have a new multi-function active sensor (MFAS), a state-of-the-art radar being developed by Northrop Grumman. The MFAS is a “spinning” AESA that provides 360-degree coverage and a variety of advanced, automatic modes. Kreitler revealed that the prototype MFAS had been flying since December on NG’s Gulfstream II test bed from Lancaster airport, California. The BAMS will also carry Raytheon’s MTS-B EO/IR sensor, and the Sierra Nevada Corp. AN/ZLQ-1 ESM system.
The BAMS could be considered the “ultimate” Global Hawk. It features modifications that critics have identified as lacking on the USAF jets, such as an anti-icing system; additional gust alleviation for the wings to permit ascent and descent through bad weather; a more powerful 30 KVa generator; an engine software change to trade thrust for endurance; a nose-mounted, lightweight AESA air-to-air radar to “sense and avoid” conflicting traffic; and a wideband Ka- and X-band military satcom system.
But after the acquisition cost overruns that plagued the USAF program, Northrop Grumman’s challenge will be to deliver BAMS on time and budget. “We’re marching steadily towards IOC in 2015,” Kreitler said.
Three aircraft are now in final assembly, with the first rollout scheduled for June 14 at Palmdale. The Navy program of record is 68 aircraft.