A Block 40 kill would end a tumultuous chapter in the Air Force’s relationship with Northrop Grumman, a key contractor also managing the stealthy B-2 and vying for the service’s next-generation bomber program. The company is already embroiled in a fight to preserve the Block 30 Global Hawk, its highest legislative priority, which is designed to carry an electro-optical and infrared camera and signals-intelligence collection systems. Once slated to replace the venerable U-2, the Air Force abruptly abandoned its Block 30 plans in a budget proposal last year, offering to shelve all the aircraft built to date.
Northrop Grumman has delivered eight of 11 Block 40s on order, according to Alfredo Ramirez, chief engineer at Northrop. Sixteen Block 30s of 30 planned have been delivered, Loochkartt says. Early work on the next of each block is under way at the company’s Moss Point, Miss., facility, and both are slated for delivery in 2014.
Congress has moved to keep the Block 30 flying until 2014 despite the Air Force’s proposal to shelve it; aircraft are operating out of Al Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates and have been since late 2001 in support of post-9/11 operations abroad.
This leaves the Air Force with six Block 20 aircraft, two of which were quickly outfitted with the Battlefield Airborne Communication Node payload designed to enhance communications in Central Command.
Meanwhile, NATO’s work on the Global Hawk-based Alliance Ground Surveillance program continues, as does the U.S. Navy’s program to outfit a Global Hawk for maritime surveillance. The Navy is slated to spend $11.4 billion developing and building 65 Broad Area Maritime Surveillance aircraft to augment its burgeoning P-8 fleet.