Warplanes: May 12, 2002

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Unmanned drones are getting expensive. Global Hawk was sold to the military and Congress on a cost estimate of $15 million, but the ones in service cost $48 million and the next batch will hit $75 million. Air Force Chief of Staff General Jumper has warned that if the cost doesn't come down, the Air Force would be better off to buy more manned U-2 recon planes. Part of the cost growth is due to adding more capabilities to the drones, more of it to the uneconomically low production rate. (And some of it is just plain old "cost overruns" as have been seen before.) The new Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle looks to cost about $60 million, a lot more than the "one-third the price of an F-35" it was advertised for. The Navy has enough money for two Global Hawks, and (if they're cheap enough) plans to integrate them into the P-3C Orion maritime patrol squadrons rather than forming entirely new squadrons that operate only Global Hawks. This may reduce the number of new Multimission Maritime Aircraft it buys to replace the aging Orions. The Navy is convinced that it needs manned aircraft for this mission but that Global Hawks could replace some of them on some missions. If Global Hawk costs less to buy, such replacements could yield dividends as it would cost less to provide them with fuel, maintenance, and crews. Global Hawk drones are in such high demand for use in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq that a scheduled "sales demonstration" for Germany had to be rescheduled from this fall to next year. There are not enough of the drones for needed missions.--Stephen V Cole

 


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