The Pentagon is, once again, reversing its own position on which platform to use for its high-altitude reconnaissance mission – the venerable Lockheed Martin U-2 or Northrop Grumman RQ-4B Global Hawk unmanned aircraft.
The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) has directed the U.S. Air Force to restart modest funding not only for operations of the high-flying U-2, but also to invest some funding in research and development and procurement, according to industry sources. The funding is coming from a topline increase for the service, meaning OSD has provided the cash to pay for it, and is slated for inclusion in the fiscal 2016 budget request going to Congress next month.
The roughly $150 million in investment spending over three years is a signal that last year’s proposal to retire the U-2 fleet and quickly transfer the high-altitude collection mission to the unmanned Global Hawk was a bridge too far. It shows that the service will not only operate the fleet it has, but pay for upgrades to keep the U-2 relevant. In addition, funding for U-2 operations will be restored for three more years – fiscal 2016-18, the sources say. Though operations at the height of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars ran about $400 million annually, the service is now targeting about $350 million a year to operate the U-2 globally.
For the complete story by Amy Butler of Aviation Week, click here.