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22 Jul 02. U.S. defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp is forecasting a boom in the market for unmanned aerial vehicles, pushing sales of its Global Hawk to a total 250 to 300 units by 2020.

Customers are expected to include the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard along with NATO countries, Australia and Japan, said Paul Meyer, vice president of business strategy and development for Northrop’s Air Combat Systems.

The market for unmanned vehicles is in its infancy, currently accounting for only about three percent of aircraft used for military purposes, according to estimates from leading U.S. defense firms.

But that figure will grow rapidly thanks to recent success stories from the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan and will approach 20 percent within about a decade, Meyer said.

Northrop expects to deliver to the U.S. Air Force two production Global Hawks in 2003, doubling that to 4 per year until 2007, when 10 of the vehicles will be delivered, Meyer said.

The U.S. Navy will also buy two Global Hawks next year.

Meyer said at briefing here that the price for a Global Hawk is expected to average less than $50m each, including one ground station per three planes flying.

In another announcement on July 22nd, in pursuit of partnerships to develop a wide range of pilotless fighter jets and robots, Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA – News) (BA) wouldn’t rule out a combination with rival Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC – News) Corp. (NOC), a Boeing executive said Monday.

During a presentation to reporters at the Farnborough Air Show, Mike Heinz, Boeing’s vice president of unmanned systems, said, “We are going to be seeking partners across the globe.”

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