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Global Hawk postured for success

by Master Sgt. Amaani Lyle
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

7/12/2011 - WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- With a solid record in combat and humanitarian missions, the RQ-4 Global Hawk program remains a critical component to national security and the Air Force will increase cost-saving efficiencies to ensure the unmanned aerial system's sustainment, officials said here July 12.

Rigorous reviews over the last year by Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Dr. Ashton Carter and David Van Buren, the Air Force service acquisition executive, initiated a shift in the Global Hawk program's affordability strategy, senior leaders said. The strategy includes savings in the Air Force program and working with the Navy to reduce production staffing and combine vendor buys.

In response to average cost-per-aircraft increases, the Department of Defense elected to restructure the program from a single large program into four distinct sub-programs. These cost increases stem from aircraft quantity reductions, higher costs due to diminishing manufacturing sources and program execution costs, officials said.

Cost saving strategies
"We have already seen approximately $39 million of total program savings as a result of the efficiencies currently in place, and anticipate a similar outlook for the future," said Randy Walden, the Information Dominance programs director, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition. "Global Hawks are getting the job done today for the warfighter in the field and will continue to be a key contributor in our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities."

According to Walden, Global Hawk program leaders have made great strides to improve execution and better understand costs.

"The program is postured for success and should be ready for a full rate production decision that we anticipate in August 2011," he said.

As such, the DOD restructured to reduce Block 30 aircraft and associated sensors from 44 to 31. The quantities of Block 40 remain unchanged at 11, reducing the overall program cost by almost $2 billion.

Based on the past 10 years of aircraft performance, including combat experience, the attrition rates are continually being reviewed, acquisition officials said, adding that the data were considered in the decision to reduce the number of Block 30 aircraft in the revised program of record.

"Ultimately, the Air Force can better identify shortfalls and differences within the Global Hawk program by using sub-programs to break out Blocks 10/20, 30 and 40 configurations," Walden explained.

Missions and capabilities
Walden said the Block 20/30 initial operational test and evaluation findings in December 2010 afford the Air Force an opportunity to further improve the Global Hawk system.

"In fact, the findings confirmed many of the issues the program office had been working on for the past few years," he noted. "To date, the Air Force has delivered 11 Block 20/30s in theater and as we continue to mature the system, we will realize additional improvements and deliver the remaining fleet as part of the high-altitude transition strategy to retire the U-2."

Since initial fielding, feedback from warfighters has been positive. Lt. Gen. Larry James, the deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, lauded the program for its reliability.

"Since we began flying Global Hawk operationally more than 10 years ago, the system has demonstrated superior and consistent performance, flying nearly 1,800 combat and humanitarian missions around the globe logging almost 36,000 flying hours," James said, adding that the system accumulated more than 3,500 flight hours with 90 percent mission effectiveness.

Walden echoed his assessment, adding that in just a decade of overall service, the Global Hawk has amassed more than 55,000 flight hours, 44,000 of which were in combat.

In the Middle East, the Global Hawk provides critical communications nodes and imagery to U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, Walden said, adding the system's persistence and high altitude make it an ideal platform for those missions.

In response to a joint urgent operational need request from battlefield commanders for overhead communications relays, the Global Hawk program fielded in less than one year the battlefield airborne communications node on Block 20 aircraft to help bridge coalition ground forces communications in combat zones.

"Since the Global Hawk BACN acts like a data-link gateway and voice relay, it reduces communication delays from troops on the ground and increases kinetic engagement speed by about 45 percent," Walden said. "In Northern Africa for example, the performance of Global Hawk in Libya, supporting Operation Odyssey Dawn, was exceptional, far exceeding the command's expectations."

In the Pacific, Global Hawk sorties were flown over Japan in support of humanitarian relief efforts associated with the devastating earthquake and tsunami, he said.

"In South America and Haiti, the imagery the Global Hawk provided was vital for everything from disaster relief, counter-drug operations, (and) military and civil planning to environmental and deforesting mapping," Walden continued. "In the United States, Global Hawk brought us similar success flying missions over Northern California in 2007 and 2008 to support fighting fires and improve how commanders planned their fire-fighting resources each day."

The program only continues to improve, Walden said, noting that the ground station re-architecture effort moves the program toward an open-architecture design and system standards to satisfy long-term operational effectiveness, sustainability and flexibility objectives.

"The ground station re-architecture should also enable synergies between the Air Force Global Hawk program and the Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance," he added.
The Navy and Air Force are currently pursuing efforts to enable interoperability/commonality to increase operational effectiveness and reduce total ownership cost.

Way ahead
Defense officials said they believe the reviews and certifications provide a solid foundation to deliver a fully executable program to meet warfighter needs.

"The continuation of Global Hawk is essential," Walden said. "There are no alternatives to the program (that) will provide acceptable capability to meet the joint military requirement at less cost, and the cost assessment and program evaluation director has determined new unit estimates to be reasonable."

To that end, the Air Force will continue the Global Hawk's mission to support the current fight, deliver the Block 30 in support of the HAT strategy to retire the U-2, and complete development of Block 40, which will enhance the Air Force's synthetic-aperture radar and ground-moving target indicator missions.

"The Air Force is committed to delivering Global Hawk as the theater-level system for persistent ISR in support of joint warfighter needs," Walden said.

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