Pentagon Will Slow JSF Buys, Cancel Global Hawk Block 30

 - January 27, 2012, 9:50 AM
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (left) and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explain the strategic guidance underlying defense spending cuts. (Photo: Department of Defense)

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) previewed a Fiscal Year 2013 budget submission on January 26 that slows procurement of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, terminates the Global Hawk Block 30 and retires some C-5As and C-130s.

The $613 billion DoD budget will be submitted to Congress in February with the federal budget. It reduces overall defense spending by $259 billion over the next five years.

In releasing the “budget priorities and choices” document, Pentagon officials said they remain committed to all three variants of the Lockheed Martin JSF, but will slow procurement to complete flight testing and allow for developmental changes.

Ashton Carter, deputy secretary of defense, noted the recent lifting of the short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) variant “probation” in his remarks. “We got some good news this year with respect to STOVL,” he said. “That was the result of some good engineering work done in the last year, and that means that all three variants can go forward. At the same time, the issue with the Joint Strike Fighter of cost and the performance of the program in this difficult [period] where we’re transitioning in trying to reach full-rate production, that’s still a concern to us. We’ll ride up that curve to full-rate production…when it is economically and managerially prudent to do it.”

The Pentagon determined that the cost of the Global Hawk Block 30 program over the five-year budget would exceed that of the Lockheed Martin U-2 it was supposed to replace. The decision to cancel the Block 30, one of four versions of the Northrop Grumman high-altitude surveillance UAV, is a “good example” of the need to focus on cost performance in a tight budget, Carter said. The Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation (OT&E) last spring described the Global Hawk as “not operationally effective” following a 2010 evaluation. 

“The Block 30 priced itself out of the niche of taking pictures in the air, so we will continue to use the U-2,” said Carter. “That’s a disappointment to us. We had hoped to replace the U-2 with the Global Hawk, but the Global Hawk became expensive. That’s the fate of things that become too expensive in a resource-constrained environment.” [See USAF Extends Life of Lockheed Martin U-2 as Northrop Grumman Defends Global Hawk’s Failed Evaluation--Editor.]

The budget calls for reducing the active Army to 490,000 soldiers, from 562,000, and the Marine Corps to 182,000, down from 202,000, by 2017. “The changes to the size of our ground forces allowed us to examine the Air Force’s airlift fleet. Our intensive review determined that we could reduce, streamline and standardize our air fleet with minimal risk,” said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. That will be done by retiring some older C-5As and C-130s.

The DoD will continue to fund development of a next-generation bomber and the KC-46A aerial refueling tanker, officials said.


Terrible decision!! Cut programs to save money?? What about all the people in the aerospace industry now without jobs and all those soldiers coming back to take their place in the work force at the same time. Mayhem!! And we need those Global Hawks! If they have become "too expensive" it's because the Air Force kept tacking on more requirements as they went along, causing the need for complete restructuring in many cases and very expensive adjustments to an already well-made, serviceable craft. And what happens when the U-2's start falling apart from old age? Where will the replacement parts come from? Bad idea.

The only requirement added by the Air Force was for the RQ-4 to replace the U-2. It was never intended to do that and was never capable of doing that. The fact that the Air Force took the aircraft to war very early on in its development resulted in an R&D/test program that was dysfunctional at best. As a result, delays in virtually every aspect of the program's development added $$$ to the per unit cost.

The aircraft also has not performed as expected which cannot be written off as part of new technology development. Northrop Grumman has continually struggled with basic airplane manufacturing issues which has been a great source of frustration to the Air Force.

I wonder how long the Navy will hang in with the aircraft as its price/aircraft will surely increase due to the Air Force's cancellation.

I can't let this one go. Believe the hype if you want to. If not, keep reading. I'll tell you what, let's make all our logical and rational conclusions based upon emotional prodding from the mass media WITHOUT doing any research. The statements made above, with all due respect, are completely without any factual information PERIOD. Allow me to correct the previous post and allow some real information to flow. The global hawk is not only the ONLY replacement for the aging U-2 platform, it througly exceeds the U-2 in its capabilities. It's even cheaper ($2000/flight hour LESS) than its predecessor. Northrop Grumman has an amazing production line that assembles a product with a stunning attention to detail and an unparalleled quality control. I should know. I've worked on this amazing airframe in the factory, on the final assembly line and in the operational theater. The team I work with combines hundreds of years of career experience in aviation, anywhere from Airbuses to B-2's. The real story here is this: The U2 has been around for a long while. Generations of pilots have called it their family. Many of these individuals feel threatened by this change in technology which puts them behind a computer instead of in a cockpit. I truly wish that these individuals would think more about serving their country where it needs them most and stop proliferating subjective misinformation to serve their personal (emotional) interests. A true warfighter goes where he is ordered to go and does what he can to his best ability in the service of his country. He adapts to dynamic environments and is flexible to change no matter how threatening it may be. Pride in the service is never to be confused with pride in one's self. Let's not forget our obligation as Americans to be as objective as possible with our decisions and our comments. Challenge yourself beyond your emotions and try to see things in a clearer light. At least do some research before you criticize the programs, the economy and the people who take a selfless pride in doing what needs to be done to provide the American people the best they deserve.

There are four aspects to the U-2 versus Global Hawk debate:

1. Sensors. The U-2 has been collecting and datalinking imagery (radar or EO) plus simultaneous SIGINT for years - a powerful combination. It has more payload and more electrical power available than the GH. For various reasons, the GH sensor suite has not been able to match the U-2 performance. Moreover, the USAF chose not to integrate the U-2’s valuable Goodrich SYERS multispectral EO sensor on the GH. Nor the U-2’s old-but-still-useful wet-film broad-area camera.

2. Airframe performance. The GH reaches 60,000ft, slowly. The U-2 climbs faster and flies above 70,000ft, thus extending the sensor horizon, and the margin against interception. The GH has not been as reliable and maintainable as expected. Incidentally, the U-2 airframes have years of life left.

3. Man-In-The-Loop. The wider debate about UAS replacing manned systems is ongoing. Despite being a high-flyer, the GH still faces airspace integration issues. Moreover, U-2 pilots are actively engaged supporting ground troops on every mission, and re-tasking seems to be easier than with the GH.

4. Expense. The GH has cost more to acquire than it should. (Northrop Grumman blames the govt acquisition process). Then, prompted by Congress, the USAF was supposed to demonstrate that the GH has lower operating and sustainment costs. Apparently, it has been unable to do so. See my article last June for more on this subject.

Chris Pocock

Defense Editor, AIN

Author, 50 YEARS OF THE U-2

Bad baby boomers = bad committees = bad management = bad performance = cancelled programs that can't compete with existing platforms built by the good guys!