Cost of flying Northrop's Global Hawk down over 50 percent: sources

Fri Sep 13, 2013 7:54pm EDT
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By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The cost of flying Northrop Grumman Corp's (NOC.N: Quote) RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned spy plane has dropped more than 50 percent over the past three years, reflecting higher use and efforts to lower operating costs, a source familiar with the program said.

Government records show that it cost $18,900 per hour to fly the high-altitude reconnaissance and surveillance drone in mid-2013, compared to $40,600 in 2010, according to the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The source said the cost was driven lower in part by higher usage, which meant logistics and support costs were spread over a higher number of flight hours.

Contractor logistic support, which accounts for a large portion of the overall cost per flight hour, dropped even more sharply to just under $11,000 per flight hour, from nearly $25,000 three years ago, the source said.

Details about the operating cost of the unmanned planes emerged as the Air Force worked on two budget proposals for fiscal 2015. One of those examines the impact of a 10 percent across-the-board funding cut that would apply if mandatory spending cuts under sequestration remained in effect.

The Air Force has sought for two years to truncate the Block 30 version of the Global Hawks, arguing that it would be less expensive to keep flying its Cold War-era U2 manned spy planes. Lawmakers have thus far blocked those plans.

No comment was immediately available from the Air Force, which operates the unmanned planes, on the flight hour data.

Northrop spokesman Randy Belote declined to comment on specific flight hour data, but said the company was working to improve the performance of the aircraft, which has been used for surveillance over Iraq and Afghanistan, and natural disasters.   Continued...

An undated U.S. Air Force handout photo of a RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft. REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Bobbi Zapka/Handout