Union Tribune

October 8, 2003

Northrop, Sikorsky link in bid for Army contract


WASHINGTON Northrop Grumman announced a new partnership yesterday with Sikorsky Aircraft that it hopes will greatly improve its chances of winning a major Army contract for an unmanned armed helicopter.

Sikorsky, the nation's oldest helicopter maker, brings expertise in advanced military helicopters, said Greg Zwernemann, manager of the Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft program, which is run from Northrop's Air Combat Systems in Rancho Bernardo.

The Northrop-led team also includes Kaman Aerospace, another veteran helicopter maker; BAE Systems of San Diego; and Natural Selections Inc., a software developer from La Jolla.

The Northrop group and a team led by Lockheed Martin were selected from four competitors to conduct the second phase of the competition to build the revolutionary rotary wing combat drone.

The competitors will refine their concepts and designs for a winner-take-all decision about this time next year. The winner then will produce prototypes for flight testing that should start in 2006, Zwernemann said.

Zwernemann said Northrop brings its experience in unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, designed by the San Diego-based Ryan Aeronautics, now a part of Northrop Grumman Corp. The company produces the long-range Global Hawk for the Air Force and is developing the Fire Scout unmanned helicopter for possible purchase by the Navy and the Army.

The unmanned combat helicopter project is jointly funded by the Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency and the Army. If accepted for production, the Army would buy potentially large numbers of the drone helicopter.

Zwernemann said Northrop's intention is to push unmanned military aircraft technology "way beyond where UAVs are today."

The unmanned armed helicopter will be able to perform fully autonomous scout missions, find and attack enemy targets on its own or call in attacks by other weapons, Zwernemann said.

Northrop made the announcement at the Association of the U.S. Army conference and trade show in Washington.