• USN PMA program manager Capt Jeff Dodge with an MQ-8C Fire Scout variant at Pax River. Credit: ADM Katherine Ziesing
    USN PMA program manager Capt Jeff Dodge with an MQ-8C Fire Scout variant at Pax River. Credit: ADM Katherine Ziesing
  • An MQ-4C Triton at the Northrop Grumman facility in Palmdale. Credit: Northrop Grumman
    An MQ-4C Triton at the Northrop Grumman facility in Palmdale. Credit: Northrop Grumman

With a number of major Defence capability acquisition contracts up for grabs in the near future and the recent awarding of a major F-35 sustainment contract, Northrop Grumman Australia is looking to double its local workforce by 2020.

Nigel Pittaway | Washington, Patuxent River and Palmdale

In addition to its headline MQ-4C Triton long endurance maritime UAS, which is to be acquired under Project Air 7000 Phase 1B, Northrop Grumman Australia sees near-term opportunities in programs such as the Defence Enterprise Resource Plan (ERP); JP2096, Defence ISR Integration Backbone (DIIIP); JP9711, Core Simulation Capability (CSimC); Land 19 Phase 7B, Ground Based Air and Missile Defence; and Air 6500 (Joint Battle Management System).

Further out, the company sees opportunities in the vertical take-off UAS requirement for Navy’s Offshore Patrol Vessels and Future Frigates (Sea 129), for which Northrop Grumman is proposing its MQ-8B/C Fire Scout, and upgrade of the RAAF’s EA-18G Growlers under Project Air 5349 Phase 6 (Advanced Growler).

Northrop Grumman Australia is ranked No.14 in ADM’s Top 40 Defence Contractors 2016 list, with a reported turnover of $214.4 million and a reported 461 people on their books. With the opportunities for further growth as outlined, Australian CEO Ian Irving predicts an exciting year ahead.

Northrop Grumman Australia

Speaking in Washington in mid-January, Irving said that the Australian workforce has grown from around five people four years ago to almost 500 today, largely through Northrop Grumman’s acquisition of M5 and Qantas Defence Services, but predicts that it will grow to around 1,000 people by the end of the decade.

“This is going to be a tremendous year for us; it really is the year for Australia,” Irving said. “There are five major projects in which we are likely to participate in the first eight months of the year, in addition to assisting the Commonwealth with their Triton co-operation program with the US Navy.


“Multi-INT Triton is due to enter service with the US Navy in 2021 and therefore its timing is important to Australia.”

“We should also be in a position to sign two big new contracts by the end of the year as well.”

Key to the projected growth will be the establishment of an F-35 component maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade (MRO&U) capability to service Australia and southern Asia. Irving says the current thinking is to establish an electronics repair and sustainment capability either at Williamtown or in the Greater Western Sydney Area. Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Defence Services (IDS) division already has a significant presence at RAAF Richmond, by nature of its C-130H MRO work.

“We’d like to establish the new facility as the nucleus of what would be a broader electronics repair capability within Australia,” he added. “There are a lot of products that we have supplied over the last 20 years which are being maintained back here in the US and which we’d like to localise in Australia.”

Irving and members of his senior leadership team were in the US to formulate Australian industry participation plans for each of the capabilities it will propose in response to the Commonwealth’s requirements.

“We are looking at not just accessing our portfolio here in North America for Australia’s requirements, but building an Australian Industry Capability,” he said. “Both within Northrop Grumman Australia and also our supply chain partners in both markets.”

Triton update

The 2016 Defence White Paper approved the purchase of seven MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance platforms for the RAAF, which are likely to be acquired in the early years of the next decade. The working number of platforms is at seven but ADM understands another two are in the offing, with timing unknown at this time. Australia is interested in the multi-intelligence (Multi-INT) development, which will have significant enhancements over the baseline aircraft now about to enter service with the US Navy, including a Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) payload.

Also known as Integration Functional Capability 4 (IFC-4) configuration, the Multi-INT Triton is due to enter service with the US Navy in 2021 and therefore its timing is important to Australia.

Flight testing of the initial three System Development and Demonstration (SDD) aircraft at NAS Patuxent River in Maryland continues, with 113 flights and 721 hours accumulated by mid January. According to Northrop Grumman, Triton performance so far, including that of the AN/ZPY-3 Multi-Function Active Sensor (MFAS) X-band AESA radar, is meeting or exceeding performance specifications.

Final assembly of the first two production aircraft is currently underway at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, California, and the USN is due to take delivery of the initial example in August. The two aircraft will deploy to Guam early next year with VUP-19, the first of the US Navy’s two operational Triton squadrons, and Early Operational Capability (EOC) will follow in the (northern) spring of 2018.

An MQ-4C Triton at the Northrop Grumman facility in Palmdale. Credit: Northrop GrummanAn MQ-4C Triton at the Northrop Grumman facility in Palmdale. Credit: Northrop Grumman

“Triton is very exciting for us, it’s our headline program and we are pleased to be working with the Commonwealth as they move forward with a co-operative agreement with the US Navy,” Irving said.

“It will be a co-operative contract under which Australia will participate hand in glove with the USN, in very much the same style as the P-8A contract. I think it will benefit Australia in the future as a contributor to the Triton capability as it evolves through life.”

Fire Scout update

Navy’s Project Sea 129 is seeking to acquire vertical take-off unmanned platforms for the new OPVs and frigates and Ian Irving says he is hopeful that the MQ-8 Fire Scout will be actively considered for both.

“There’s still some water to go under the bridge with both of those projects but we’re having some very fruitful dialogue with the Royal Australian Navy,” he says.

The US Navy has two versions of Fire Scout; the smaller MQ-8B, which is based on the Schweizer 300 helicopter and the larger and more recent MQ-8C, based on the commercial Bell 407 platform. By switching to the larger MQ-8C, the US Navy has increased endurance from 4-5 hours to 10-12 hours.

Both platforms initially had identical missions systems, but recent modifications have seen different maritime surveillance radars fitted. The MQ-8B has now deployed operationally with a Telephonics AN/ZPY-4(V)1 AESA radar and the MQ-8C will soon be fitted with Selex’s Osprey 30 advanced electronically scanned unit.

The first US Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to deploy to the western pacific with the radar fitted is the USS Coronado, currently forward-based in Singapore with two MQ-8Bs aboard.

“We’ve now embarked on a program to put a maritime surveillance radar on the MQ-8C, which will be ongoing over the next couple of years,” Captain Jeff Dodge from the US Navy’s Fire Scout program said. “We selected the Osprey because the larger MQ-8C can support a radar with a larger aperture.”

Also under development, at least initially for the MQ-8B is the AN/DVS-1 Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) system, which can provide information about obstacles on the beach and in the surf prior to an amphibious assault. The system is now progressing through operational test and evaluation and is expected to be released o the fleet in the (northern) autumn of this year.

The MQ-8B has been deployed at sea aboard the US Navy’s now-retired FFG-7 frigates and is currently deployed aboard both classes of LCS. Trials have also been conducted with an Arleigh Burke DDG and a US Coast Guard Cutter.

Although the MQ-8C has carried out some trials aboard an LCS, ship availability has had an impact on the schedule.

“We need to do some more dynamic interface testing between the MQ-8C and the LCS, but we just haven’t been able to get on the schedule for our ships, because they’re so busy,” CAPT Dodge explained.

The MQ-8C is expected to transition from the Navy’s Unmanned Test Squadron, a developmental test unit based at Webster Field close to Patuxent River, to test squadron VX-1 for operational trials in the northern autumn and the platform scheduled to achieve IOC with the fleet during 2018.

Considering the Advanced Growler

Even before the first EA-18G Growler Airborne Electronic Attack aircraft for the RAAF touches down on Australian soil, there are plans for a future capability upgrade to both the platform and its sensors.

One of the items under consideration for the Advanced Growler program, reportedly Project Air 5349 Phase 6, is the addition of removable conformal fuel tanks to the spine of the aircraft.

The CFTs add another 3,500 pounds (1,587.5 kg) of internal fuel which, according to Boeing, will increase combat radius by 260 nautical miles (481 km), while reducing both weight and drag, because the need to carry two 480 gallon (1,800 litre) fuel tanks on the underwing pylons is removed.

The tanks are designed and manufactured by Northrop Grumman and one set of aerodynamic mock up items have already been flown on a Super Hornet, although production engineering and integration of real tanks is still to be undertaken.

“The US is looking at doing this for the EA-18G and every Super Hornet would also benefit, but we are not on contract yet,” explained Tighe Parmenter, Northrop Grumman’s head of F/A-18 production at El Segundo in Los Angeles. “It is a concept that is waiting to be picked up.”

Kuwait became the launch customer for CFTs in November when the US Defense Security Co-operation Agency (DSCA) announced that eight sets will be acquired to support an FMS buy of F/A-18F Super Hornets.

After Jericho Dawn

Last March, Northrop Grumman successfully demonstrated its Airborne Gateway communications relay and gateway system during Exercise Jericho Dawn 16-3, which connected a range of communications systems, including Wedgetail, Super Hornets, Tiger ARH and Army’s EPLRS radios. See P18 for more on this.

The Airborne Gateway system was hosted aboard a company Gulfstream platform during the exercise and demonstrated a means of achieving the Plan Jericho goal of harnessing the combat potential of an integrated force. The idea is to select a limited number of waveforms, such as Link 16, Link 11, Common Data Link etc when planning an operation and then use gateways to make the remaining connections between systems.

Such a system could conceivably be fitted to a range of ADF platforms, including obvious persistent ISR nodes such as Wedgetail, but also to others around the battlespace, including the KC-30A or even the RAAF’s C-27J, which will work closely with Army Aviation assets and may benefit from connectivity with Army’s BMS.

Northrop has integrated its Airborne Gateway onto the RQ-4 Global Hawk under the US Air Force’s Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (BACN) program and the system has seen extensive operational use in the Middle East. There is also a good chance that the Australian Triton will carry the system later in its life.

“It’s the glue that brings the technology together; we provide the dial tone,” explained Tony Karkainan, director of business development for Northrop Grumman’s military communications group. “So all you have to do is pull the trigger on your communications device and you will be able to speak with whomever you want to. The operator doesn’t know, and shouldn’t frankly care, how it works – it’s just that it works really well.”

ADM understands that the Airborne Gateway system will be trialled aboard an RAAF King Air over the next year or so, as part of a process which will inform JP9347, High Altitude Gateway.

Disclaimer: The writer travelled to the US as a guest of Northrop Grumman.

This article first appeared in the February 2017 edition of ADM.

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