The Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle [UAV] surveillance aircraft was initially known as Tier II+ during development. In role and operational design, the Global
Hawk is similar to the Lockheed U-2, providing a broad overview and systematic surveillance using high resolution Synthetic Aperture Radar [SAR] and long-range electro-optical/infrared [EO/IR] sensors with long loiter times over target areas. It can survey as much as 40,000 square miles of terrain a day. Cost overruns have led to the original plan to acquire 63 aircraft being cut to
45, and to a 2013 proposal to mothball the 21 Block 30 signal-intelligence variants.Each aircraft was to cost US$35 million in 2005, but rose to $222.7M per aircraft [including development costs] by 2013. The U.S. Navy has developed the Global Hawk into the
MQ-4C Triton version for maritime surveillance.
Programme development cost overruns put the Global Hawk system
at risk of cancellation. Per-unit costs in mid-2006 were 25% over baseline
estimates, caused by both the need to correct design deficiencies as well as
increase system capabilities, causing concerns about possible termination of the
programme. However, in June 2006, the Global Hawk program was restructured.
Completion of an operational assessment report by the Air Force was delayed from
August 2005 to November 2007 due to manufacturing and development delays. The
operational assessment report was released in March 2007 and production of the
54 air vehicles planned has been extended by two years to 2015.
In February 2011, the Air Force reduced its planned purchase of
RQ-4 Block 40 aircraft from 22 to 11 in order to cut costs. In June 201,
DOT&E found the RQ-4B "not operationally effective" for its mission due to
reliability issues. In June 2011, the Global Hawk was at a cost of $220M less
per year than the U-2 to operate on a comparable mission. The U-2 cannot
simultaneously carry the same sensors as the Global Hawk; and if funding must be
reduced, Global Hawk has a higher priority over other
On 26 January 2012, the Pentagon announced plans to end Global
Hawk Block 30 procurement as the type was found to be more expensive to operate
and with less capable sensors than the existing U-2. Plans to increase
procurement of the Block 40 variant were also announced. The Air Force's fiscal
year 2013 budget request said it had resolved to divest itself of the Block 30
variant, but the FY13 NDAA mandated operations of the Block 30 fleet through the
end of 2014 w/ plans to procure 45 RQ-4B Global Hawks as of 2013.
From 2010 to 2013, costs of flying the Global Hawk fell by more
than 50 percent. In 2010, the cost per flight hour was $40.6K Contractor
logistic support, which accounts for much of the overall per flight hour cost,
was $25K per flight hour. By mid-2013, cost per flight hour dropped to $18.9K,
with contractor logistic support dropping to $11K per flight hour. Cost was
driven down in part by higher usage, which meant logistics and support costs
were spread over a higher number of flight hours.