The Global Hawk Block 20/30 is "effective with significant limitations ... not suitable and partially mission capable," says Maj. Gen. David Eichorn, who oversees the U.S. Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC).
His findings are listed in a May 20 report on the system's initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) testing phase, which took place last fall. See Aviation Week's exclusive article here (subscribers only).
Eichorn acknowledges this is an unusual finding. Typically, systems are considered effective or not effective. “I was much more comfortable with the shade of gray in this case rather than the black and white of is it effective or not,” Eichorn tells Aviation Week in a June 3 interview. “This provides a valuable service to our nation, and to the allies … I felt more comfortable calling it effective because it does do some things well. But it has got a ways to go to being all that we want it to be.
Of note was a poor effective time on station -- 27% rather than the 55% expected, and lackluster performance of the EISS imagery collector and ASIP sigint collectors at range.
A Global Hawk Block 20 arrives at Grand Force AFB, North Dakota, this week as part of a ceremony to begin UAV ops there. Officials had hoped this would be a Block 40 aircraft, but it was delayed. USAF photo.
The report’s findings are damning to a program that has had its share of struggles. The Air Force declared a so-called Nunn-McCurdy cost and schedule breach of over 25% of estimates in 2006 for work on the Block 20 aircraft. The service and Northrop Grumman didn’t anticipate the complexity of designing and building the Block 20, which was designed with a larger wingspan to lift more payload than its Block 10 predecessor. More recently, the Pentagon declared a second Nunn-McCurdy breach for the Global Hawk this spring. However, this one was associated largely with the cost of funding spares and halving the buy of Block 40 aircraft from 22, driving the per-unit price up.
While Global Hawk has faced stiff headwind in Washington on cost and now with its testing findings, the system has support in the field. Versions of the UAS have been operating out of Al Dhafra Air Base in the UAE since shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to support operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Since then, the UAS has operated from Beale AFB, Calif.,, its first home base, Guam, Italy and, as of this week, in Grand Forks, N.D.
This juxtaposition is reminiscent of the Predator UAS, made by rival General Atomics, when testers issued an equally scathing finding of its performance. However, the system – as well as the larger Reaper and Grey Eagle versions – are hailed by field commanders as successful.