In an apparant victory for unmanned systems, the United States Congress has moved to block the USAF decision to cut the unmanned RQ-4 Block 30 aircraft siting the continued need for the long endurance intelligence system for world-wide operations through at least 2014.
The Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee’s portion of the defense authorization bill would “require the Secretary of the Air Force to take all actions necessary” to keep the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned aircraft operational through the end of 2014, according to documents released Thursday by House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.).
The bill would also “limit the use of funds” for the Pentagon to retire the Block 30s, which it had proposed in its 2013 budget. It says no funds could blackjack be used in 2013 to “retire, prepare to retire, or place in storage an RQ–4 Block 30 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system.”
Questions were raised about the rationale for retirement with internal AF budget estimages being revised and later dropped entirely following the latest release of the “cost per flying hour” which showed the RQ-4 Block 30 actually being less expensive to operate than the manned U-2 which it was being lined up to replace.
According to the USAF the RQ-4 system was between two and three times more expensive than the U-2 and substantial budget savings were expected from the retirement.
The Pentagon proposed retiring 18 of Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk Block 30 drones, one variant of the unmanned aircraft, which the Air Force said would save $2.5 billion over the next five years.
Questions have begun to surface surrounding the expected savings as sizable investments have been moved to the U-2 platform – investments that appear to deliver nothing before the expected end of operations in Afghanistan in late 2013.
The issue is not expected to be decided until the budget is presented to the President for signature as the National Defense Authorization Act later this year.