Apparently NATO ministers have agreed that the organisation would acquire a fleet of unarmed drones. This is unusual, in that generally the organisation relies on in-kind contributions of its members.
According to the Wall Street Journal NATO would buy five Global Hawk drones and a ground control station, produced by Northrup Grumman, at a cost of $1.5 billion, or $300 million each. The Global Hawk is a high altitude, long endurance jet powered drone capable of very high and very long sorties.
According to Defense Industry Daily, the unit cost of the Global Hawk is as low as $35 million each. But at a quoted price of $300 million each, the NATO partners appear to be being asked to pick up a share of the staggering development costs for the high tech drone. Also needed would be a range of surveilance equipment.
Surprisingly, the purchase came as some portions of the US military appeared to be ‘warehousing’ their existing Global Hawks. Colin Clark in AOL Defence.com described US Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz as saying the Global Hawks would be taken out of active service because the sensors weren’t as good and the operating costs higher than the U-2 aircraft also being used. An article by Reuters in Aviation Week claimed that the programme would be scrapped completely, except for a version being developed by the US Navy.
The cost would be shared by 13 of (mostly) smaller NATO members, with the US picking up 40% of the cost. The drone will be based in Italy.
Few countries would have a use for an expensive drone of this type, but the US no doubt pressured them to pay for part of the costs of supplying high altitude surveillance for NATO’s many interventions.
Perhaps equally interesting, and puzzling, are the reasons why certain other members of NATO didn’t participate.