Air Force looks to Northrop Grumman for Global Hawk UAV maintenance through late 2014

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga., 26 March 2013. Contractor logistics support -- or the lifetime maintenance of weapons systems by defense contractors instead of by military maintenance personnel -- has become big business in recent years, and Northrop Grumman Corp. has just cashed-in with a U.S. Air Force contract worth nearly half a billion dollars to maintain the RQ-4 Global Hawk long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

The Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems sector in San Diego won a $434 million contract to perform contractor logistics support for the Global Hawk. The contract, awarded by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., was announced Monday.

Northrop Grumman Aerospace designed and built the Global Hawk, a large surveillance UAV larger than an F-16 jet fighter, and will handle contractor logistics support for the unmanned aircraft through September 2014 under terms of the Air Force contract.

Global hawk was designed by Ryan Aeronautical, which Northrop Grumman acquired in 1999. The UAV has a role similar to the U-2 high-altitude surveillance aircraft.

The RQ-4 provides broad-area surveillance using high-resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and long-range infrared sensors. The aircraft can remain aloft for days and can survey as much as 40,000 square miles a day.

A Navy version of the Global Hawk called the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV assists the Navy's Boeing P-8 surveillance jet with anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and maritime patrol duties.

Contractor logistics support, although an expensive line item in the Pentagon budget, often makes sense in the modern era of complex military technology -- especially as military personnel are taking a hit due to sequestration and other U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) budget cuts.

Maintaining large and complex weapon systems such as the Global Hawk, often referred to as organic repair, is a massive undertaking, according to a 2009 study by the Rand Corp., a think tank in Santa Monica, Calif.

Managing organic repair efficiently has been a challenge for the Air Force throughout its existence, according to the Rand Corp. study entitled Contractor Logistics Support in the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force spent $5.1 billion on organic depot maintenance and an additional $4.6 billion for private depot maintenance in 2005.

Organic repair typically happens at government depots, intermediate repair facilities, and at flight lines on military bases.

Contractor logistics support, meanwhile, is defined as contractor sustainment of a weapon system that is intended to cover the total life cycle of the weapon system.

The Air Force increasingly has chosen contractor logistics support as an alternative to organic support of weapon systems since the last decade, particularly for depot maintenance for airframes and engines, as well as for parts repair and replacement.

Contractor logistics support normally involves several sustainment tasks, usually for the life of the weapon system. Examples of common contractor logistics support tasks are aircraft and engine overhaul, repair and replenishment of parts, sustaining engineering, and supply chain management.

Northrop Grumman will do the work involved in this contract in San Diego. For more information contact Northrop Grumman Aerospace online at www.northropgrumman.com, or the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at www.robins.af.mil/units/aflcmc.

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