The closer you look at Air Force plans to retire the U-2 spy plane and transfer its sensors to the Global Hawk drone, the less sense the plans make. Global Hawk can never reach literal parity with U-2 because it has much less payload and power generating capacity; it also cannot fly through or above heavy clouds like U-2 can — which is why most of the drone’s scheduled missions in the Pacific last year were canceled. Beyond that, the Air Force appears to plan U-2 retirement years before its sensors are operational on Global Hawk, and says it won’t even upgrade the drone’s sensors if sequestration mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act remains in force. Congress needs to block retirement of U-2 until Global Hawk achieves something like parity in sensor performance, and install the newer SYERS-3 electro-optical sensor on the drone rather than transferring sensors from U-2. The latter step would reduce risk to U.S. troops and enhance performance against so-called “anti-access” strategies in the Pacific. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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