Northrop Grumman has announced a major shakeup of its aerospace systems business, with its rapid prototyping arm Scaled Composites realigning under a newly formed “research, technology and advanced design organisation”.

Scaled has always operated with a degree of autonomy since being acquired by Northrop in 2007, but with its legendary founder Burt Rutan now in retirement and new opportunities like the US Air Force T-X next-generation trainer on the horizon, it will now be more tightly integrated than ever as part of Northrop’s new advanced research arm.

The unit built the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo and unmanned X-47A demonstrator, and is currently developing the world’s largest aircraft, the Model 351 Stratolaunch, plus Northrop's bid for the XS-1 experimental spaceplane for the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).


Northrop Grumman's concept for its DARPA-sponsored XS-1 experimental spaceplane.

Northrop Grumman

Former vice-president of advanced systems Chris Hernandez has been tapped to lead the new division, reporting directly to Tom Vice, corporate vice-president and president of Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.

Hernandez has served since 2013 as the company’s vice-president of advanced systems, and reporting to him will be Tom Pieronek – the newly appointed vice-president of basic research.

In another reshuffle, Northrop has also launched a new global business development unit headed by Mary Petryszyn to grow international sales amid a lacklustre defence budget domestically. That decision comes as American defence contractors look abroad with renewed vigour to boost their bottom lines, since there is no end in sight for an unpopular US government automatic spending cap known as sequestration.

Northrop’s reshuffle is timely affair, with Lockheed announcing last month that it will acquire helicopter maker Sikorsky, and as the US Air Force prepares to announce the winner of its Long-Range Strike Bomber contract, potentially worth upwards of $80 billion for 80 to 100 aircraft.

In terms of new US opportunities, Northrop is eyeing the air force’s T-X and Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System Recapitalisation (JSTARS Recap) programmes primarily, as well as the navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) project.