ATLANTA (Reuters) - The Department of Defense has told Congress that it would keep working on Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk reconnaissance drone despite cost overruns that triggered a mandatory review for possible termination.
Defense Undersecretary Ashton Carter sent certification to Congress on Tuesday that the program was essential to national security and that there were no alternatives that would meet the department's requirements for less money, Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said in an email on Wednesday.
In April, the department said the average cost of the high-flying Global Hawk had risen more than 25 percent, mainly because of a slowdown in planned purchases and a change in the mix of aircraft to a greater number of a pricier model.
The cost increases triggered a review under the Nunn-McCurdy law, which requires the Pentagon to formally justify to Congress the importance of continuing a program in which unit acquisition costs have risen more than 25 percent above a baseline and to show that there are no alternatives.
In documents sent by Carter to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee chairman that were obtained by Reuters, the Pentagon's top weapons buyer called the Global Hawk a "high priority aviation program" and said he had directed the Air Force to take a number of actions to control program costs.
Northrop Grumman said in a statement that the certification was a "positive step forward" for Global Hawk, and that it was working to reduce aircraft and sensor costs for the program.
Global Hawks were used this year over Japan in disaster recovery after the March earthquake and tsunami, and are being deployed over Libya in the NATO-led enforcement of a no-fly zone.
Northrop Grumman shares closed down 1.5 percent at $63.50 on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Karen Jacobs; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa in Washington)