Congress Sees U-2s Flying through 2016, at Least

House and Senate defense authorizers agreed in conference that the Air Force must seek Congress’ approval if the service wishes to phase out the U-2 reconnaissance fleet after 2016. They want to ensure that RQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted aircraft are ready to take over the high-altitude intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance mission with no drop-off in capability before the U-2s are phased out. Accordingly, they included language in the conference report accompanying the Fiscal 2012 defense policy bill stipulating that the Air Force “may take no action” to prevent it from maintaining the U-2 fleet “in its current configuration and capability beyond Fiscal 2016” until Pentagon officials certify that the Global Hawk’s operating and sustainment costs “are less than” those of the U-2 and the Global Hawk’s capability would be “equal [to] or greater” than the U-2’s. Earlier this year, the Air Force leadership told lawmakers that the service’s Fiscal 2012 budget proposal would fund U-2 operations through Fiscal 2015 “to ensure a smooth high-altitude transition to the unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk.” Apparently, Congress sees U-2s flying at least one year longer, if not more. (See also U-2 and Global Hawk and Global Hawk Program Trimmed.)