Northrop Grumman to focus on maritime version of UAV

Northrop Grumman has declined to team up as prime contractor with either BAE Systems or EADS to compete for the US Navy's Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA).

Instead, it will focus on developing a maritime version of theRQ-4A Global Hawk unmanned air vehicle (UAV). This effectively leaves both European companies without a viable major US partner to bid for the planned Lockheed Martin P-3C/EP-3C replacement.

Lockheed Martin's last-minute decision to back away from a proposed deal to support the Airbus A320 has left EADS searching for an alternative US partner. Northrop Grumman's Integrated Systems' decision not to compete for the manned element of MMA leaves few options. BAE has also failed to secure a local backer for its proposed Nimrod MRA4 offering but, unlike EADS, it can compete as a prime contractor.

"Our interest is in a marinised Global Hawk for the navy mission as an adjunct to the P-3 and eventual MMA," says Dave Stafford, Northrop Grumman vice president business strategy and advanced developments.

"We think it is in the best interests of the company and navy for us to be an honest broker in promoting a distributed architecture and have elected not to team with anyone on a manned aircraft."

With Boeing promoting an MMA solution based on its 737-800 and Lockheed Martin opting to stick solely with an improved P-3, the only potential partner for either BAE or EADS is L-3. The company has not completed its purchase of Raytheon's Greenville-based Airborne Integration Systems and some observers question whether it has the clout to compete as an MMA prime contractor.

EADS sources do not rule out Lockheed Martin reversing its position if, after the release of the request for proposals (RFP), a turbofan-powered platform emerges as the USN's preferred solution. The company says: "We haven't seen the proposal on MMA and we want to examine that. Our response is likely to centre on the P-3, but we would like to review our options."

The USN plans to release the delayed RFP soon. Northrop Grumman is urging the navy to put in place contract agreements to allow it to share UAV integration data with other MMA prime contractors.

Source: Flight International