“The Global Hawk is a very impressive product, but it is also a very expensive product,” according to a quote in the NYT from aviation analyst Richard L. Aboulafia. “Those U-2s were paid for a long time ago.”
The drone had serious problems carrying the same sensors as the U-2, specifically the Optical Bar Camera, an ultra-high-resolution camera carried in the belly of the U-2, which supplements the forward-looking ground-radar-imaging and visual cameras in the plane's nose.
Only Apple can make failing to support critical components sound like an advantage
The Optical Bar Camera carries rolls of film 10,500 feet long that can take more than 1600 photographs, each of which can cover an area two miles long by 32 wide with resolution high enough to pick up detail "as fine as the lines in parking lots," from 70,000 feet.
It is the only wet-film spy camera still in use by the Air Force and, so far, has resisted being effectively mounted on a Global Hawk.
High maintenance requirements and long down times between missions meant Global Hawks could deliver only about 40 percent of the intelligence demanded of them, according to Pentagon reports published last June.
The Hawk's electronic-eavesdropping systems don't pick up either the type or volume of data they should, including its spotty ability to spot radar installations and other sources of radiation that are typically difficult to miss, the report said.
Steadily increasing costs and unsatisfactory performance combined to take the shine off the Global Hawk in the view of lawmakers, just weeks before the Air Force announced it would replace the venerable U-2.
High cost, low performance, long downtime
That didn't go over well with Congress, especially considering that the drone was hampered by its own inadequate technology and "immature training, tactics, techniques and procedures" to keep it operating at full capacity and squeeze the best data out of its sensor systems, the Pentagon report said.
The Navy will continue buying its version of the Global Hawk, whose ability to stay in the air (once it gets in the air) for as long as 24 hours at a time is more useful over the vast Pacific than over more condensed land-bound targets, defense analysts said.
U.S. Air Force