How long will it take for the Pentagon to release something official on the ultra-stealthy long-range unmanned air vehicle that (according to intel, and reasonable analysis of the open-source tea-leaves) Northrop Grumman is building and preparing for flight test at Groom Lake (AW&ST December 3, 2012)?
Lt Gen Charles Davis, military deputy in the USAF acquisition office, came close to mentioning the unmentionable in a House Armed Services Committee hearing last Wednesday. Davis was responding to a question from Rep. John Garamendi – a Democrat whose district includes Beale AFB, intended home of the Global Hawk – about the direction of the USAF’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance program and the decision to cut back on Global Hawk acquisition.
“We did not do that without carefully looking at how we cover that with the U-2 and other classified platforms,” Davis said, adding that “you’d probably need to go into detail with in another forum”, a form of words indicating a classified session.
In a possible indicator as to the timing of procurement of the secret UAV, Davis said that the USAF has no requirement for more Block 30 Global Hawks beyond 2014 and wants to “use that money for much higher priorities”.
“We have pretty much heavily funded ISR for a very permissive environment for a couple of decades,” Davis continued. “We are in the process of trying to look at all the assets, with our operational requirements and intelligence requirements, to rationalize a program that has operated almost totally uncontested and prepare it for a scenario where it is not going to have that freedom.”
The classified UAV is believed to be about the size of a Global Hawk but with Northrop Grumman’s trademark “cranked-kite” shape, It has been described as incorporating both a high degree of stealth and a very efficient aerodynamic design.
This was not the only hint about classified programs in the April 17 hearing. RAdm Bill Moran, director of the Navy’s air warfare division, noted that as well as funding APG-79 active electronically scanned array radar retrofits to all early Block 2 Super Hornets, “there are several other programs that I’d be happy to come back and talk about in a classified setting. They are very significant, fully funded in 2014 and will keep the Super Hornet credible through the late 2020s and early 2030s.”