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Northrop Gets $1-Billion Robot Plane Pact

August 19, 2004|Peter Pae | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Northrop Grumman Corp. won a $1-billion contract to develop an unmanned combat aircraft that could take off and land on an aircraft carrier, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

The five-year deal awarded to the Century City-based defense contractor is the largest single contract for the development of robotic aircraft.

Northrop, which makes the B-2 stealth bomber and the Global Hawk spy plane, will develop the X-47B unmanned combat vehicle in El Segundo, Palmdale and San Diego. About 300 engineers work on the program, which is expected to add 100 jobs by the end of the year.

The contract calls for Northrop to build three demonstration aircraft, two for the Navy and one for the Air Force.

The X-47B is designed to autonomously take off and land on an aircraft carrier, whose runway is about 300 yards long. The plane would carry bombs and missiles to destroy enemy air defenses, typically at the forefront of an attack.

Development of unmanned air vehicles has become a top priority at the Pentagon after the success in Afghanistan and Iraq of robotic spy planes, primarily Northrop's Global Hawk and the Predator, which is produced by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. of Rancho Bernardo, Calif. The Pentagon is spending about $2 billion a year developing and making unmanned aerial vehicles.

The contract was announced during a Northrop reception on the flight deck of decommissioned aircraft carrier Midway, which recently opened as a museum in San Diego. On the deck, Northrop showcased a full-size replica of the traditional-kite-shaped X-47B.

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