San Diego Union-Tribune 


Mar 17, 2001


WASHINGTON -- Northrop Grumman's Unmanned Systems division in San Diego has received another small contract to continue work on the Global Hawk long-range reconnaissance drone in anticipation of a production decision later this year, a company spokeswoman said yesterday.

The $45 million contract from the Air Force will pay for electronic modifications to the Global Hawk aircraft to enable it to fly within the worldwide air traffic control system, Cynthia Curiel said.

The award came a month after Northrop received an $84 million "bridge contract" to sustain the program until a decision is made on whether to authorize low-rate production.

That decision had been expected this month following a Feb. 16 Defense Acquisition Board review of the program.

But Curiel said Northrop now expects an initial production contract before the end of the fiscal year. That would authorize construction of the first two operational drones. Meanwhile, work is continuing on the sixth and seventh craft in the developmental program.

Although one Global Hawk has crashed during test flights, the program drew unusual praise from the often-critical General Accounting Office and received the National Aeronautical Association's Collier
Trophy as the top aviation achievement of 2000.

Global Hawk is a pilotless aircraft the size of a business jet that is intended to fly higher than 60,000 feet and stay aloft for more than 24 hours. That would enable it to perform military spy missions halfway around the world, relaying high-resolution photos or other intelligence information via satellites.

The long-winged drone normally would fly preprogrammed missions with no control from the ground. But its assignments can be changed en route by signals sent from its control center.

The Air Force initially plans to buy at least 50 Global Hawks, at about $15 million each, to augment its overworked U-2 high-altitude, manned spy planes. Studies are under way for additional uses of the drones, including possibly giving it the ability to launch precision weapons, which could expand the number bought.

Australia and other allies also are considering buying drones.

The Air Force plans to base the first Global Hawk units at Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville.

2 PICS; Caption: 1. Military officials and employees of San Diego's Ryan Aeronautical, now a unit of
Northrop Grumman, got a close-up look at the Global Hawk at a 1997 unveiling ceremony. 2. SPY
PLANE -- Northrop Grumman gets contract to continue work on the Global Hawk (C- 1); Credit: 1.
File photo