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Report: Air Force Plans to Retire RQ-4 Drone Fleet

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The U.S. Air Force expects to decommission RQ-4 unmanned aircraft systems in fiscal year 2027 as the military service is eyeing surveillance platforms that offer survivability to future contested environments, Breaking Defense reported Wednesday.

A USAF spokeswoman confirmed the drone retirement plan after the publication obtained a letter from a contracting officer who recently advised Northrop Grumman, prime contractor for the Global Hawk, on the branch’s life cycle expectations for the fleet.

Congress permitted USAF to start retiring Block 20 and Block 30 models of the remotely piloted aircraft last fiscal year and will make the final decision on whether the branch should also divest the Block 40 system to phase out its entire Global Hawk fleet, according to the report.

The report added USAF is seeking to retire its E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, a move that could leave the remaining RQ-4 vehicles to perform mobile ground force tracking functions until the service deploys a more survivable platform.