30 Jul 15. Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) has awarded the first Australian supplier contract for the U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft system (UAS) initial production lot to Ferra Engineering. Brisbane-based Ferra Engineering will manufacture mechanical sub-assemblies for the first four Triton air vehicles including structural components.
“At Northrop Grumman it’s very important to not only develop our own capabilities, but to develop and foster capabilities in local supply chains,” said Ian Irving, chief executive, Northrop Grumman Australia. “This is a great opportunity for quality-focused Australian companies to be involved in the production and sustainment of one of the U.S. Navy’s and Royal Australian Air Force’s key capabilities for many years to come.”
“This contract, and the opportunities we expect will be available in follow-on production lots, highlight Northrop Grumman’s commitment to Australian industry,” added Irving.
Northrop Grumman’s engagement with Ferra Engineering, and its advanced capabilities, was facilitated through the Australian Department of Defence’s Global Supply Chain program. Under the Global Supply Chain initiative, international companies such as Northrop Grumman can assess Australian industry and provide them the opportunity to compete for business around the world on a value-for-money basis. Australian companies have also received requests from Northrop Grumman for quotations to potentially provide components for follow-on production. These industry opportunities include cables, complex machined and composite assemblies, as well as special tooling and test equipment. In March 2014, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the Australian Government’s intent to purchase the Triton UAS for high-altitude, long-endurance surveillance missions. Triton can fly missions for 24 hours at altitudes of more than 55,000 feet to cover vast areas of ocean and coastal regions. Its unique sensor suite provides a continuous on-station presence in a 360-degree field of view for some of the most demanding surveillance missions.
23 Jul 15. National Guard wants to make more domestic use of drones. The Air National Guard wants to boost the size of its fleet of high-altitude, long range drones and make more use of them domestically. NPR reports that the Guard has requested additional unmanned aerial vehicles to assist with various missions, mostly linked to surveillance of national borders, but they could also have other uses. A new report from RAND Corp. evaluated in depth the issue of domestic UAV operation and defined five mission types the Guard’s MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers would be beneficial for: border countermigrant, border change-detection, maritime counterdrug, incident-reconnaissance (as in emergencies) and fixed-target surveillance.
Among several constraints standing in the way for greater use of UAVs, though, are domestic airspace regulations issued by the Federal Aviation Administration. While the FAA has been glacially studying the issue of integrating UAVs of all shapes and sizes into the national airspace – the most heavily trafficked and safest in the world – general use is banned, even for government use, with a few exceptions.
The FAA requires the government to obtain certificates of authorization, which for now are limited to operations along the Mexican and Canadian borders for surveillance and military bases that host these aircraft for training. Customs and Border Protection has been operating military-grade MQ-9 Reaper drones and its maritime variant Guardian for some time in patrolling U.S. borders. Such certificates require petitioners to “include descriptions of intended flight operations, RPA characteristics, and lost link procedures.” Approval can take up to 60 days, with expedited applications for emergencies.
The Guard has 48 UAVs—14 MQ-9 Reapers and 34 MQ-1 Predators, RAND said (and plans over the next five years to replace most the