Unmanned Global Hawks provide high-resolution intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance imagery. Air Force leaders, however, say the Block 30 version of the plane won't be needed, because its capabilities don't measure up to those of the manned U-2. (Staff Sgt. Timothy Jenkins/Air Force)
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Lawmakers want the Air Force to keep flying the unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 for another three years, despite the service’s contention that the manned U-2 is better suited for intelligence gathering.
In a markup of the fiscal 2014 defense spending bill, the House Armed Services tactical aircraft subcommittee directs the Air Force to keep flying the large, remotely piloted Global Hawks through December 2016. The markup will be discussed in a hearing on Thursday, and is just one of many steps in negotiating the Defense Department’s 2014 budget over the next few months.
The service had planned to retire the $215 million Block 30 variants in 2013, which would send the aircraft directly from the assembly line to storage.
Congress inserted a directive in the fiscal 2013 defense spending bill that the service keep flying the planes through 2014 and reconsider retiring them. Air Force leaders again proposed retiring the Global Hawk Block 30s in the 2014 budget plan now working its way through Congress.
“The U-2 has better operational capability, and the money it would take to bring the Global Hawk Block 30 up to that level of operational capability is in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said in unveiling the 2014 budget proposal last month.
The subcommittee in its markup also directs the Defense Department to create an independent group of experts to review the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s software program and submit a report by March 2014.