July 28, 2022

Air Force’s RQ-4 Global Hawk drones headed for retirement in FY27

Source: Breaking Defense

Journalist: Valerie Insinna

Stacie Pettyjohn, director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Security, said it will be important for the Air Force to retain its Block 40 drones “as a stopgap” while it phases out its E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) planes. The service plans to retire eight of its 12 JSTARS aircraft in FY23, with the rest of the fleet likely to be divested in subsequent years.

That would leave the Global Hawk Block 40 drones — which are outfitted with a synthetic aperture radar with a ground moving target indicator (GMTI) mode — to track mobile troops on the ground until the Air Force fields systems that can do the mission with a much lower risk of being shot down by enemy missiles.

“I think, in many ways, the Air Force is right: This is not a survivable platform if you were in war with a country that has advanced air defenses,” Pettyjohn said. “But really, none of our ISR platforms are. … It points to one of the overall limitations and our intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance portfolio of aircraft.”

So what will ultimately fill the Global Hawk’s shoes?

“It’s not really a one-for-one trade. They’re not building a new system that’s replacing all the functionality of JSTARS or the Global Hawks,” Pettyjohn said. Rather, the service is taking a more “composite” approach that could stitch together sensor data gathered from tactical fighters like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter or satellites that have been outfitted with GMTI sensors.

Read the full story and more from Breaking Defense.


  • Stacie Pettyjohn

    Senior Fellow and Director, Defense Program

    Stacie Pettyjohn is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). Her areas of expertise include defense strategy, post...