From Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg:  The Pentagon proposes in its new budget to spend $1.2 billion for the first three NATO-version Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC) Global Hawk drones and three additional U.S. Navy-version drones, according to an official.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization announced this month it planned to buy five of the unmanned aircraft, known as the Alliance Ground System, through 2017. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters Feb. 4 without elaboration that “we have protected funding for AGS in our new budget. . . .”

The budget request will help Falls Church, Virginia-based Northrop Grumman after the Air Force announced it’s truncating purchases of its third-generation Block 30 drones. The aircraft have proven too expensive to operate and maintain, Air Force officials told reporters last month.

The Air Force has spent $3.4 billion developing and buying 18 Block 30 drones. It hasn’t disclosed whether it will put on contract an additional three drones for which Congress approved money, according to Air Force spokeswoman Jennifer Cassidy.

The Air Force program had called for buying 31 Block 30 Global Hawks. The Air Force hasn’t formally announced that it will forgo purchase of the remaining 10.

Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz told reporters Jan. 27 that the service was reviewing whether to retire the initial 18 new aircraft rather than continue flying them.  (photo: Unmanned)