Downed Drone Could Cost Navy Nearly $200 Million

The Navy might be able to get a replacement from the Air Force, one expert says.

Aan RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle conducts tests over Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. On Monday, June 11, 2012 an RQ-4A aircraft on a routine training flight crashed near Bloodsworth Island, across the Chesapeake Bay from the Naval Air Station.

The Navy drone aircraft that crashed in rural Maryland Monday likely will cost the military branch nearly $200 million at a time when the military's budget is shrinking.

The Navy Broad Area Maritime Surveillance unmanned aircraft went down near Bloodworth Island, Md. There was no injury or property damage, but the Navy's coffers and its efforts to develop and field drone aircraft to assist with naval and Marine Corps operations took a big hit.

"The total acquisition cost of the planes is projected to average roughly $175 million each," says Todd Harrison, a senior defense budget analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "To put it in perspective, that's about the cost of a brand new Boeing 787 [airliner]."

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The crashed drone was one of five Northrop Grumman-made Global Hawk unmanned aircraft the Navy acquired from the Air Force, and it is unclear whether the sea service can afford to replace the downed drone. In an era where shoddy Pentagon-wide technology development and buying practices leave the military unable to buy large numbers of new systems, the crash is a major setback for the Navy.

But Harrison has an idea of how the Navy might get one for a bargain.

"The Navy may be able to get a new air frame from the Air Force at no chargeā€”if the Air Force gets its way in its [2013] budget request, they will be retiring more than a dozen relatively new Global Hawks," Harrison says.

The potentially retired Air Force drones could, the analyst says, find new life in the Navy fleet.

John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter.

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