San Diego Union Tribune

October 19, 2006

Northrop to offer Global Hawk to Navy

Robot plane would be managed in New York


WASHINGTON – Northrop Grumman officials confirmed yesterday that they would offer their Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle for a Navy surveillance program.

If Northrop wins, the potentially billion-dollar program would be managed in Bethpage, N.Y., instead of San Diego.

Northrop Grumman
Northrop Grumman's proposal for the Navy is based on a Global Hawk model that can operate at altitudes up to 60,000 feet.

Most of Northrop's robotic aircraft development has been based at its unmanned-systems business in Rancho Bernardo, where Northrop consolidated its work with Ryan Aeronautics, one of the early leaders in military UAVs. The aircraft are assembled in Palmdale.

The company chose one of its East Coast locations for work on the BAMS – Broad Area Maritime Surveillance – program.

“Given our long heritage of Navy aircraft from our Bethpage . . . division, we will be leading this effort from Bethpage,” said Robert Mitchell, a Northrop vice president for special programs at the San Diego-based integrated-systems office.

The program would bring in “other capabilities from inside the corporation,” including San Diego, Mitchell said.

The BAMS aircraft is intended to provide continual maritime surveillance; it relays real-time imagery and sensor data from altitudes above 40,000 feet. Northrop's proposal is based on a recent Global Hawk model that can carry 3,000 pounds of sensors and equipment, operate at altitudes up to 60,000 feet and survey more than 40,000 square miles in a 24-hour period.


It is a bigger and more powerful version of the Global Hawk that the Air Force has been using in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although one Northrop representative indicated that the shift might result in personnel moves, corporate spokesman Gus Gulmert said it is “too soon to identify any numbers for jobs related to the BAMS program” because the contract has yet to be awarded.

If Northrop wins the BAMS contract, it is expected that “jobs would be created in four locations,” including San Diego and Palmdale, Gulmert said.

A competing proposal for the BAMS contract is anticipated from San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Lockheed Martin Corp. of Bethesda, Md.

The Navy wants the unmanned system to provide sustained ocean surveillance to augment its planned multimission maritime aircraft, or P-8, program.

The requirement to cover “a large portion of the Earth surface” is the key to Northrop's selection of the improved block 20 model of the Global Hawk as the basis for its BAMS proposal, Mitchell said.

Because of its size – as big as a business jet, with a 118-foot wingspan – and its more powerful engines, the improved Global Hawk is able to fly higher, farther and faster, and can stay in the field longer than most other UAVs, Mitchell said.

“We intend to have an offering to the Navy that is extremely low-risk and affordable,” Mitchell said. “The fact that we have this large aircraft that can travel long distances and see a long way, get there quickly and prosecute its mission means that we can do it with far fewer aircraft than if we had a smaller aircraft. We think we will be highly competitive.”

The General Atomics-Lockheed team countered by noting the lower cost of its aircraft, a modified Predator B called Mariner, which is smaller than the Global Hawk and does not have quite the altitude capability.

“The operationally proven Predator B/Mariner . . . offers the most cost-effective solution to meet the Navy's maritime and littoral surveillance requirements,” said Thomas J. Cassidy Jr., president of General Atomics' Aircraft Systems Group.

The Mariner “has extensive experience operating in maritime surveillance roles off the coast of California supporting the U.S. Navy, in Alaska for the U.S. Coast Guard, in Canada for U.S. forces and on the west coast of Australia providing surveillance of vital national resources,” Cassidy said in a statement.

Tierney Helmas, a Lockheed spokeswoman, said that in addition to flying a Predator in the Navy's recent Trident Warrior exercise, the companies recently completed the Persistent Unmanned Maritime Aerial study for the Navy.

“That's going to be helpful for us in moving forward,” Helmas said.

The study apparently was intended to help the Navy determine what requirements it would seek in the BAMS program.

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