Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) wants to bring the U.S. Air Force’s fleet of 20 Northrop Grumman [NOC] RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 drones to Grand Sky, N.D. after their retirement to serve as Range Hawks for testing hypersonic missiles under the Sky Range program.

Hoeven is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense panel.

Last week, Hoeven and officials from Northrop Grumman and Grand Sky participated in a retirement ceremony for the four RQ-4 Block 20s which the Air Force has transferred to Northrop Grumman in Grand Sky.

Hoeven said that the Block 20s have the sensors required for use in the Air Force’s hypersonic missile testing efforts.

“These aircraft have the opportunity to continue playing an important role in our nation’s defense as Range Hawks, the aircraft we need to improve testing of our nation’s most advanced missiles,” Hoeven said.

At the UAS Summit and Expo last week in Grand Sky, Hoeven said that he is moving to get the Defense Department to base the new Sky Range program in Grand Sky. The program is to convert Block 20 and 30 Global Hawks for use in hypersonic missile testing.

Hoeven’s office said that he invited a developer of the Sky Range program, George Rumford, the director of DoD’s Test Resource Management Center (TRMC), to last week’s UAS event. TRMC manages Pentagon weapons test assets, including equipment and ranges.

“Currently, DoD uses an aging fleet of ships deployed across a Pacific Ocean corridor to test hypersonic missiles,” per Hoeven’s office. “DoD is only able to conduct four to six tests per year, as it takes several weeks to deploy and position the ships for each test. Additionally, this process signals the testing schedule to our adversaries. Sky Range would replace the ships, which are expensive to operate, with modified Global Hawks that could deploy quickly and increase testing capacity through the creation of additional testing corridors in the Pacific and elsewhere.”

Congress allowed the retirement of the Global Hawk Block 20s in legislation last year. The Air Force fiscal 2022 budget request has asked for the retirement of the Block 30s as part of an effort to shed 201 older aircraft to help pay for a requested $2.2 billion increase in research and development (Defense Daily, June 17).

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s version of the fiscal 2022 defense authorization bill supports the retirement of the Block 30s.

“The committee believes that the divestiture of RQ–4 Block 20 and Block 30 assets provides a significant opportunity to repurpose these airframes for use in the complex test architecture needed to support continued
development of hypersonic capabilities,” per the committee’s report on the bill. “Further, the committee
notes that the Block 20 aircraft were transferred to TRMC in fiscal year 2021 for this purpose. Therefore, the committee urges the Air Force to make excess inventory of RQ–4 Global Hawk block 30 airframes available for transfer to the TRMC, as needed.”

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown has said that the Global Hawk Block 40s are to serve until at least 2025 and that he wants to ensure a smooth transition from those aircraft to a classified system under development–likely a classified, stealthy drone.