Haiti imagery spurring interest in Northrop drone

* Northrop upbeat on more uses of Global Hawk

* First European version to fly in about a month

* NASA happy with use of drone for testing

By Andrea Shalal-Esa

WASHINGTON, April 13 (BestGrowthStock) – Critical imagery provided
by a Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N: ) high-altitude unmanned plane
just 24 hours after a Jan. 12 earthquake devastated Haiti has
sparked interest in other civil and commercial uses for the
plane, Northrop officials said on Tuesday.

Northrop is already building various versions of the plane
for the Air Force, the Navy, NASA and Germany, and expects to
sign a 1.6 billion euro deal to build eight airplanes for NATO
later this year.

This week, NASA began flying a series of long flights with
a Global Hawk aircraft, which can fly at altitudes of up to
65,000 feet — or 13 miles above the ground — for more than 32
hours at a time. NASA is using the plane to carry out
atmospheric sensing and other key tests over a huge area
spanning the Pacific Ocean to the Arctic Ocean.

George Guerra, vice president of High Altitude Long
Endurance (HALE) programs for Northrop, said the Global Hawk
plane was on track to hit a number of critical milestones this
year as it continues to evolve, including a first flight of the
European Eurohawk in about a month.

He said new planes would be deployed to Germany, Italy and
Guam by the end of the year.

The plane had flown nearly 32,000 hours since it was first
introduced to do surveillance at the start of the war in Iraq,
providing imagery used by U.S. troops every day.

But he said the plane’s ability to deliver thousands of
images of Port-au-Prince and other areas damaged in Haiti had
fueled interest by other government agencies such as the Coast
Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and even private
companies, such as some in the insurance sector.

“The Haiti mission could be considered a little bit of a
breakthrough,” Guerra told reporters at a briefing in
Washington. “I heard from a lot of folks that the imagery was
increasingly valuable.”

He said there was growing interest in using Global Hawk
planes for homeland security, and some government agencies were
considering pooling their resources to buy their own planes
instead of borrowing them from the Air Force, as was the case
in Haiti.

“There are plenty of opportunities that we’re going to
continue to explore,” Guerra said.

He said Northrop officials were also studying ways to
better exploit the imagery collected by various platforms built
by the company.

Steve Enewold, a retired Navy rear admiral who once served
as deputy director of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, now runs
Northrop’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance program, the Global
Hawk variant being built for the Navy.

He said the airplane’s long range and endurance would give
the Navy game-changing capabilities for surveillance of
everything from smuggling of people to piracy.

The Navy is expected to start using the new surveillance
planes in 2015, he said.

Enewold denied that the Navy planned to open the $9 billion
program to competition in coming years. “I have heard nothing
about any sort of recompete,” he said. “It’s clear that we’re
going to build all the airplanes and the sensors.”

Enewold said Northrop officials were working closely with
officials from the Navy and Air Force programs to develop a
common ground station for the different variants, and to move
toward as “much commonality as we can” on the two programs,
which would help keep costs down in the longer run.

Northrop officials said a 40 percent increase in the cost
of the Air Force’s Global Hawk program to $13.7 billion stemmed
mainly to the addition of 23 aircraft to the 54 planes already
in the program, plus added requirements for new sensors, spares
and a large number of planned patrols.

Stock Market Report

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa; Editing by Bernard Orr)

Haiti imagery spurring interest in Northrop drone