RPA Math

The cost calculus on the manned U-2 and the unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk has “flipped” in the last 18 months, and that’s why the Air Force now favors retiring the U-2 and retaining the Global Hawk, Secretary Deborah Lee James said Wednesday. Speaking at a Bloomberg budget conference in Washington, D.C., she said the Global Hawk’s cost of ownership has declined in the wake of “negotiations with the contractor,” Northrop Grumman. USAF is working on a way to put the U-2’s sensors on the Global Hawk and give the remotely piloted aircraft better all-weather capability. The Air Force probably has “more high-altitude ISR than we need,” James noted, and it’s too expensive to keep both aircraft. If sequester persists, USAF also will eliminate the Global Hawk Block 40 aircraft. Likewise, the Fiscal 2015 budget will suggest a slower ramp-up of medium-altitude RPA capability. Instead of 65 orbits of MQ-1s and MQ-9s, USAF would only go to 55—“with an ability to surge to 71,” James said—and only 45 if sequester remains in place. The plan is also to neck down to just the MQ-9 Reaper and retire the MQ-1 Predator over five years. Medium-altitude RPAs are “not survivable” in an anti-access battlespace, and with the US out of Afghanistan, the Air Force won’t need as many anyway, James said.