the decades-old U-2 flying while upgrading the new RQ-4 Global Hawk
drone, will not meet the demands of the military for reconnaissance, and
the service needs to start again with a new aircraft to replace both
spy plans, the head of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works said.
Force’s fiscal 2016 budget request will keep the U-2 flying until 2019
while funding upgrades to the Global Hawk’s sensor package to put the
drone on par with the aging spy plane. The move will have the drone take
over the spy plane’s missions in full, though the differences in
capabilities means that neither aircraft can really do the other’s job.
ask myself, when will a program be initiated, which I think will be
unmanned, to replace both and do the full set of missions accomplished
by both the U-2 and the Global Hawk” said Rob Weiss, the executive vice
president and general manager of Lockheed Martin’s advanced development
programs, or Skunk Works, which originally designed the U-2.
Force officials have repeatedly said there is an ever-increasing demand
for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance around the world. The
service does not have enough operators, and is trying to upgrade its ISR
fleet to keep up with demand.
“There is no opportunity to replace both of them based on current demand,” Weiss said.
Air Force had originally sought to cut it’s brand-new Block 30 variants
of the Global Hawk, saying the U-2 was more capable and had a cheaper
cost per flight hour. The service flipped its position, and in the
fiscal 2015 request tried to retire all of its U-2s, a move that
Congress blocked. The compromise in the newest spending request looks to
appease Congressional concerns and keep the spy plane in the air long
enough to meet short-term demands of combatant commanders.
difference in capability will mean this plan could mean a shortfall in
ISR capability, Weiss said. Northrop Grumman is developing a “universal
payload adapter” to take the sensor suite from a U-2 and fix it to the
drone. The $487 million project is expected to take three to four years
to develop and test, according to an Air Force report to Congress.
is technology advanced enough to be able to develop a new system to
address the need for high-altitude surveillance, but now it’s an issue
of funding and deciding to move forward.
“The technology is out there today,” Weiss said.
Air Force is still in the process of accepting the Block 30 variant of
the Global Hawk, with updated Block 40 versions reaching initial
operating capability this year. The service flies 33 of the drones.
Air Force also flies 33 U-2s. The move to retire the aircraft was “not
the optimum military solution,” the former head of Air Combat Command
retired Gen. Mike Hostage said before leaving his position in September.
is about balance, I have no choice but to sacrifice the U-2,” Hostage
said. “But the problem is Global Hawk will take eight years before it
can meet 90 percent of the current capability of the U-2. [Combatant
commanders are] going to suffer for eight years, and the best they’re
going to get is 90 percent.”