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Block 30 Global Hawks face uncertain future

Sep. 18, 2012 - 10:30AM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 18, 2012 - 10:30AM  |  
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NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Air Force will continue to fly RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30s while Congress and the Obama administration hash out a fiscal 2013 budget that could direct the service to ground the fleet, the Air Force's deputy chief of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance said during a briefing here Monday.

The Block 30 variants of the Air Force's largest remotely piloted aircraft were set to be grounded and mothballed in the administration's fiscal 2013 budget proposal. But those cuts were tabled by Congress, with lawmakers criticizing the service for planning to put the drones in a warehouse a year after emphasizing that they were integral to national security.

"Obviously, we don't have firm guidance from Congress," said Lt. Gen. Larry James, deputy director of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, at the 2012 Air Force Association Air and Space Conference. "The intent is to keep flying Block 30. We are planning to continue to fly them until we get definitive guidance."

The Air Force originally planned for 42 Block 30 variants, but leaders have said the aircraft is not cost-effective, and the U-2 manned aircraft can accomplish the ISR mission. The fiscal 2013 plan said that cutting the program would save $2.5 billion through fiscal 2017. The service has 18 Block 30s, which cost about $215 million each.

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