Northrop Grumman Corp. and European Aeronautics, Defence & Space stand to benefit from increased European interest in intelligence gathering drones that could trigger additional sales of the Global Hawk used in Afghanistan and Libya, a Northrop Grumman executive said.
Denmark and Poland are among the countries ready to sign on to a NATO program to field a fleet of unmanned aircraft, and Germany is nearing a decision to buy more high-altitude drones.
NATO’s $1.7 billion Alliance Ground Surveillance program is the biggest ongoing procurement for the 28-member group. Five Global Hawks, also built by partners EADS and Finmeccanica SpA, should be fielded by 2018. AGS was originally planned to include eight aircraft, though budget pressures reduced the number of active partners to 13 countries and, after Canada and Denmark pulled out, the fleet size to five.
In addition to talking with Denmark about rejoining and Poland signing on “we are open to other nations,” Matt Copija, Northrop Grummans’s program director said during a briefing at the Berlin air show. If those agreements materialize it could lead to the purchase of a sixth Global Hawk, he said.
Although currently only 13 NATO members are active participants, all 28 countries help fund the long-term use of the drone or provide in-kind contributions. EADS and Finmeccanica SpA supply a lot of the ground element and communication aspects of the system.
In Germany, Northrop Grumman and EADS’s Cassidian defense unit are awaiting approval from regulatory authorities to begin flight testing of the Euro Hawk, a Global Hawk modified with sophisticated eavesdropping sensors. The aircraft is already at EADS facilities in Manching, Germany, where the Northrop Grumman drone has been equipped with a Cassidian-developed intelligence sensor designed for the Germany military.
The drone will undergo sixth months of flight trials before being handed over to the German air force. It is to serve as a proof of concept before Germany buys four additional aircraft. Those could be purchased already next year, says Jim Kohn, Northrop Grumman’s Euro Hawk program manager.
The German air force also has expressed interest in buying further Global Hawks equipped with cameras and a radar for additional intelligence gathering duties. Kohn said those talks have not advanced much because of tight budget considerations.