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Lawmakers blast Air Force moves on cancelled Northrop drone

The Global Hawk is pictured at the aircraft hangar of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia on September 7, 2012, relea
The Global Hawk is pictured at the aircraft hangar of NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia on September 7, 2012, relea

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. lawmakers urged Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to ensure that the Air Force complied with a law requiring the service to buy three high-altitude Global Hawk unmanned planes built by Northrop Grumman Corp that it had tried to cancel.

Representatives Buck McKeon, the Republican who heads the House Armed Services Committee, and Jim Moran, a Democrat from Northrop's home district in Virginia, sent Hagel a strongly worded letter in which they accused the Air Force of ignoring congressional mandates by failing to procure the spy drones.

A copy of the letter, which was dated May 13, was obtained by Reuters late on Thursday.

The Air Force had proposed mothballing the Global Hawk Block 30 program in its fiscal 2013 budget request, arguing that it would be less expensive to keep flying manned U-2 spy planes given pressure to reduce funding.

However, Congress rejected those plans, reinstated funding to keep the fleet of Block 30 planes flying, and ordered the Air Force to buy three final Global Hawk Block 30 planes.

The Pentagon proposed the same programmatic cut in its fiscal 2014 budget, for projected savings of $324 million.

McKeon and Moran said Congress rejected the plan to mothball the Global Hawk program because it was based on "highly questionable assumptions." They say the Air Force is ignoring "unambiguous" instructions to buy the three last Global Hawk aircraft, using previously authorized and appropriated funds.

Air Force officials had indicated during a May 9 hearing that they were was "petitioning for 'relief' from congressional intent," the lawmakers told Hagel.

"We encourage you to deny these efforts and ensure that the Air Force is in compliance with current law," McKeon and Moran wrote in the letter, which was dated May 13.

(Reporting By Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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