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Northrop Grumman eyes international unmanned requirements

The chief executive of Northrop Grumman has placed precedence on the company’s unmanned capabilities, claiming that it is well positioned for a number of international requirements.

Speaking during the company’s second quarter earnings call on 23 July, Wes Bush said the unmanned capabilities Northrop offers are at the higher end of the operational spectrum, and therefore of great interest to a number of international allies.

“We tend to position ourselves more on the higher end of the capability and I think that serves us well in terms of being able to look ahead to what our customers are going to need and invest in the near term, to make sure those capabilities are going to be present for them,” he explains.

Referring to the X-47B unmanned carrier air system – demonstrator (UCAS-D) programme that the US Navy contracted Northrop to develop as an example, Bush claims that this type of “stage setter” technology appeals to international partners of the USA.

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“We’re seeing a growing demand from our allies around the globe for this class of capability,” he says. “We’re looking forward to supporting that, particularly given the support for the outcome we’re seeing from the United States government, with DoD policy focusing substantially on making sure our allies can have this class of capability and use it in a way that’s highly integrated with US operational doctrine.”

Bush claims there is a “good path forward here”, although the timelines of when international progress will come to fruition is hard to predict, as there is uncertainty surrounding the steps required for international sales.

“Clearly with the [RQ-4] Global Hawk and [MQ-4C] Triton we’re seeing great interest in those capabilities in Korea, Japan, Australia and other countries, and we’ve got the NATO AGS [Alliance Ground surveillance] programme underway in NATO today and that’s moving ahead very nicely,” Bush adds.

Bush says that Global Hawk “sets a stage” for future development. “This [provides the] ability to really see a large area and see it perceptively, to deploy a variety of different sensor capabilities and to the common integral part of the operational doctrine of how things get prosecuted.”

Bush claims the maritime Triton variant derived from Global Hawk is “moving along very well”, having completed the initial flight test programme and now approaching low-rate initial production.

He notes that discussions are still under way regarding the recently-released draft request for proposals for the air vehicle design element of the USN's unmanned carrier-launched airborne surveillance and strike programme, for which Northrop is one of four bidders.

“That’s a programme where there continues to be quite a bit of discussion in the navy… about the mission and its requirement, so it is a little early to call how that one is going to go quite yet," he says. “But I think it’s just another indicator that this is an arena with a lot of dynamics and a lot of opportunities.”

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