Procurement: July 26, 2005

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The U.S. Air Force has ordered the first production models of the RQ-4B Global Hawk long range UAV. The initial order is for four aircraft, at a cost of about $69 million each. This includes money for ground control and launch and recovery equipment, plus spare parts and the like. The B model is 48 feet long and has a wingspan of 131 feet. The original Global Hawk design was for a $30 million UAV. But the price has crept up over the last five years, as better sensors were installed, and much effort went into solving reliability problems. Accidents and equipment failures led to RQ-4As being lost after less than a thousand hours in the air. UAVs are inherently more prone to accidents, because of the lack of a human pilot, who is still superior, to the flight control software, when it comes to saving the aircraft from all sorts of misfortune. But even with the price of the Global Hawk doubling, the air force is more satisfied with its performance than with that of the latest model of the C-130 transport. The air force brass have noted that the first production model of the C-130 (the C-130B) cost $11.5 million (in current dollars). But the latest, the C-130J, costs nearly $60 million each. The air force would rather have more Global Hawks, but Congressional pressure (to save the jobs of constituents), forces the air force to keep buying C-130Js. 

 


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