The first Northrop Grumman MQ-4C broad area maritime surveillance (BAMS) aircraft is on track for rollout in the spring of 2012, with first flight that summer.
The first prototype aircraft is being fitted with electronics at Northrop Grumman's factory in Palmdale, California.
The wings, currently in Texas, will be delivered in summer 2011. The empennage is expected in early July 2011, and the Rolls-Royce engine in early August.
The fuselage of the second airframe is under construction at a Northrop Grumman facility in Mississippi, and will be transferred to Palmdale in September.
A formal declaration of initial operational capability is expected in 2015. The US Navy will stand up one base per year; at least one base, Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates, is partially operational with BAMS-D, the demonstrator aircraft converted from an ex-US air force Block 10, which provides half the navy's airborne maritime surveillance of the Persian Gulf.
The navy is currently focusing on speeding up the incorporation of signals intelligence capabilities, said Walt Kreitler, Northrop's director of business development.
"The maritime signal set is different from the overland signal set, that's just the nature of the beast, but we're confident we're going to meet the navy's requirements," he said. BAMS will also be used as a communications relay.
Northrop is planning to migrate to a common software architecture for all MQ- and RQ-4 models, a move to be completed in the 2016-17 timeframe. "Every version of the aircraft gets ever more capable, ever more sophisticated, ever more reliable," said Northrop.
Source: Flight Daily News