Jorge Benitez over at the Atlantic Council highlights a fantastic concept that would see at least a portion of the USAF’s soon to be stored Global Hawk Block 30 fleet given to NATO. It is widely known that NATO has a real and pressing need for information, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets, and the strategic capability that the Block 30 Global Hawk provides would be a great and economically viable fit for the increasingly cash strapped organization. Further, by upgrading the aircraft to carry a modular battlefield airborne communications node (BACN) it would allow for beyond line of sight data-link fusion across the battlefield and in most cases to ground level. This would not only allow the RQ-4s to collect near real-time imagine intelligence over the conflict area, but it could also provide an “active net” to participating war fighters, fusing different NATO weapon systems’ sensor pictures and modem data into a common product and allow for critical information exchange over great distances. This is a win-win for all involved as America, a primary partner in NATO and it’s majority bank-roller, will still be able to recover valuable intelligence and situational awareness enhancing capabilities from their investment, while NATO would be getting an incredible capability, one only rivaled by the venerable U-2, for only the cost of the platform’s operation and sustainment.
The fact that the USAF even attempts to prematurely retire the brand new and already paid for RQ-4B Global Hawks because of it’s high operating costs as well as redundancies and a preference towards the well proven U-2 platform that the Block 30 was supposed to replace, without a clear plan and “business case” to utilize, sell, trade, or gift the aircraft is a damning example of what is wrong with the USAF. For too long the service has wasted money on deadend projects or has not followed through on others that they had invested massive amounts of tax payer dollars into, so sadly it is no surprise that in their mind stuffing new and capable airframes into storage is a perfectly acceptable practice. I have talked about this to a large degree before, most recently in a piece concerning the imminent retirement of over 100 A-10 Warthogs from USAF inventory (linked below). As the DoD prepares to receive “the latest and greatest” in high altitude long endurance (HALE) UAVs, in the form of it’s Block 40 Global Hawk and Navy BAMS, it should not forget that there are plenty of reasonable ways to make use of less than perfect assets, ones that they pleaded for just a few years prior, and NATO would be a perfect place for the Block 30 Global Hawks to call home. It is simply a win-win situation for all involved.
Recent piece Global Hawk related piece from the Atlantic Council with Aviationintel quoted:
The case for NATO receiving ex-USAF Block 30 Global Hawks:
Recent Aviationintel post about giving away unwanted A-10 Warthogs: