The United States Air Force has confirmed to Breaking Defense that RQ-4 Global Hawk ISR drones will be phased out of service by fiscal year 2027 to make room for future platforms amid criticisms that it cannot compete in near peer combat environments.
Breaking Defense had obtained a letter from a Air Force Life Cycle Management Center contracting officer, which read “Northrop Grumman shall base their DMS [diminishing manufacturing source] and Life Cycle Management plans with the expectation that the entire USAF Global Hawk fleet will reach its end of life in [2027: corrected by USAF].”
Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek confirmed to the outlet that the letter was genuine, adding that “Our ability to win future high-end conflicts requires accelerating investment in connected, survivable platforms and accepting short-term risks by divesting legacy ISR assets that offer limited capability against peer and near peer threats.”
The Air Force has been trying to retire the RQ-4 platform for years and this latest development comes to no surprise as the older Block 20 platforms have already been divested while Block 30 platforms are set to be fully retired by 2023. Currently, Block 20s are being used in hypersonic missile testing.
Stacie Pettyjohn, director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, told Breaking Defense that the Air Force will retain its RQ-4 Block 40s, the most modern RQ-4 platform, until all E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) planes are retired in the upcoming years as a “stop gap.”